Players, coaches at Cesar Chavez HS come together following death of beloved teammate
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - It’s been an emotional start to the football season at Cesar Chavez High School in Phoenix following the unexpected death of a student-athlete. But the team has found a way to come together in the face of tragedy.
William “Ducy” Burwelll Jr. wasn’t planning on being the head coach, but can’t imagine doing anything else, helping the team overcome the heartbreaking loss of 15-year-old Chris Hampton just weeks before the season started. “The biggest thing is we stayed together,” said Burwell. “Every day, we’re talking together, eating together, together all the time. To be able to share these feelings together, we can get over it together.”
Back in July, Hampton drowned in a lake in northeastern Arizona. Hampton and his teammates were participating in a football camp in Show Low, and some players had gone to the lake for team bonding. The teen’s death was ruled accidental, but it took an emotional toll on the team and the Cesar Chavez community.
There were also questions about whether the season would go on, with the head coach and other assistants placed on administrative leave following Hampton’s death.
Burwell, who the players call coach Ducey, agreed to step in and lead the team after serving as linebackers coach last season. “When I showed up, it was a lot of doubt, a lot of confusion, a lot of why?” said Burwell. “They were questioning everything. Why did this happen? How do this happen? What do we do know?”
“He was in the position right next to me, playing as weak linebacker,” said teammate Keivon Davis. “Having played with him all summer, then at end of summer, not to be with me, and not being on field for the season, it hurts.”
One of coach Ducey’s priorities was ensuring his players knew that it was OK to grieve and cry, and keeping Hampton’s memory alive was important to everyone. “Chris is still on my depth chart, still on the chart,” said Burwell. “Not only is he on the chart, we have a blitz named after him, and we just got patches. A big shout out to Fairfax; they gave us patches, so that was a lot of love. We’ve also got number 5 on the helmets. He’s in our everyday conversation.”
The team’s first game against Chandler High School was extremely emotional. Cesar Chavez lost 56-6, but what everyone remembers was the two teams gathering at midfield after the game to honor Hampton. “Just the support we’re getting from the community and parents, it means everything to these boys,” said Burwell.
Players and coaches have dedicated the season to Hampton but are determined not to let their emotions overwhelm them. Coach Ducey has already seen his team turn a corner, realizing this season is about more than just football. “I hope they understand that no matter what life throws at you, you have to figure a way, have to find a way,” said Burwell.
The team’s head coach, William Chipley and Athletic Director, Lenny Doerfler, submitted their resignations last week.
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