EAST ST. LOUIS – At East St. Louis High School the Gateway Scholars Football Classic kicked off as they hosted Trinity High School.
One player who was set to score touchdowns at the game was not on the field after gun violence ended his life.
As the high school continued with safety protocol to ensure an enjoyable football event, Jaylon McKenzie’s family remembered him from a memorial outside of the field.
The community rallied around Jaylon McKenzie’s family during a bittersweet gathering.
“Since he was small, he always wanted to play for eastside and today he would`ve fulfilled his dream,” said Otis Gunner, McKenzie’s father.
Instead of scoring for the Flyers his trophies, cleats, and pictures were there as a memory of his talent, perseverance, and character.
“I know what people say as far as the athletic ability, but it’s the other part of him working hard, overcoming shortcomings. That, to me, is what defines Jaylon,” Gunner said.
The eighth-grader, a star, recognized by Sports Illustrated, had opportunities taken in an act of gun violence back in May.
Though the shooting did not happen at a game or in East St. Louis, the security director at the game said this tragedy started a crucial conversation.
“Everybody expressed the need to curb gun and gang violence in the community,” said Michael Hubbard, Chief of Security.
After recent gun violence among youth in the area, East St. Louis schools want to regain comfort at games.
“I want to give people the perception that you can come to a football game and enjoy yourself,” Hubbard said.
Gunner encouraged people to recognize the pain caused by violence. He said the first thing that comes to mind is the word, “stop.”
“For somebody to take his dream away… it hurts. Today would’ve been his dream. He didn`t have an opportunity. It hurts me. It hurts my family. It hurts everybody.”
Gunner said he is overwhelmed by the support people showed who stopped by the memorial. Dozens of them walked away wearing bracelets to show support to family and to remember McKenzie.