Students, faculty, friends and family gather to remember Antaves Petty with a balloon release at New Hope High School Tuesday morning. Petty, a 16-year-old sophomore, died Saturday evening in a car crash. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff
November 8, 2017 10:50:24 AM
At 7:45 Tuesday morning, the students who had been milling around the New Hope High School field where the band practices dutifully formed a loose circle -- maybe 30 feet across -- and stood silently, seven to eight deep, and awaited for the short service to begin.
It was about as quiet as you'll find a group of 300 or so teenagers, who stared at their feet, many clutching candles or balloons of blue, gray or gold, some shaped like stars or footballs, a nod to their classmate, Antaves Rotalren "Taves" Petty, a member of the football team.
Petty, a 16-year-old New Hope sophomore, died Saturday evening in a car crash, the only fatality in a two-car collision that happened at about 7 p.m. on Highway 82 near the exit for the Golden Triangle Regional Airport.
Master Sgt. Criss Turnipseed, of the Mississippi Highway Patrol Troop G, said all four of the other teens involved in the crash, including the driver of the car that rear-ended the one Petty was riding in, were treated and released from Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle later Saturday evening.
On Tuesday morning, three of Petty's friends -- Antwayn Roland, Malachi Clay and Ty Hairston -- stood in the circle of classmates.
Words were not easy to find.
"We played football together and we would go out on weekends," Hairston said. "He just liked to have fun. He was never sad. He always tried to make people laugh."
New Hope head football coach Kris Pickle said while Petty didn't play much this season as a sophomore receiver on senior-dominated team, he was always a presence.
"He was just a real well-liked kid," he said. "He had his problems like everybody else does, but he was always the center of attention. He just brought a lot of laughter to the room and was just a good guy to be around. His mama should be proud of the way she raised him because I thought he had a heart of gold."
Monday was a difficult day for the students, said school counselor Billy Lee.
"We had some counselors from the other county schools come by, along with myself, and some ministers from several churches," Lee said. "Some of the kids were pretty upset, as you might imagine, but as the day went on it seemed to get better. It will take some time. Of course, you never really get over something like this."
Tuesday's ceremony, which lasted about 20 minutes, was an effort to continue the difficult task of coming to terms with the death of their affable classmate.
Kevin Edge, pastor at nearby New Journey Church, admitted the answers he sought to share with the hushed group of students would not eliminate the pain and grief they shared.
"We're not going to get to perfect today," Edge told the teens in opening the ceremony. "You're all facing the reality that this world, this life, it ain't what you thought it was. It sucks lots of times. But I'm here to say that God wants something better, an eternity that is better for us than what we're doing right now. That's what Taves has now, something far better. I want you to know who Taves is, where he is and what he's doing right now. But most importantly, I want you to know why that is even possible: because of the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ."
After a prayer, the students released their balloons, which drifted south over the high school and hung against the gray sky. Petty's mother, Katrina Porter, surrounded by knot of eight family members standing with her inside the circle of students, watched them drift away.
"I don't have to look down," she told the students. "I know I've been looking down the whole time. That was my only son that I loved so dearly. But I promise you, he is looking down on you all and I know he's saying, 'Now, Mom, you're a strong survivor, a riser.' I want y'all to know that I will rise for my son."
Principal Matt Smith closed the ceremony, reminding students that the funeral service would be held at the school gym at noon Saturday.
"Take some time," he said. "Hug each other. Then, we'll get back to school."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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