Wineka column: Memorial offers students at West Rowan time to grieve
MOUNT ULLA — You might know a kid like Jonah King. A boy who always has a wink for the girls, or the guy who constantly tries to do you one better.
You might know a student like Jonah King — someone who can be late for class, yet find a way to smooth it over with the teacher.
You might have an over-the-top friend like Jonah King, someone who breaks out in song at the drop of a hat, dares you to try stuff for the first time, literally carries you around on his back or threatens to beat you up if you don’t get your act together.
And that makes you like him even more.
You might know a classmate like Jonah King. A protector. A kidder. Someone who asks you a thousand questions to figure out why you’re feeling low. The person who tells you to go home now for your own good.
You might love a son like Jonah King. A son with a good heart and non-judgmental soul.
“Jonah loved everybody,” his mother, Jackie, said Thursday night on the track of West Rowan High School’s football stadium. “He did not discriminate.”
Hundreds of West Rowan students, some of their parents and teachers and many of Jonah King’s family, neighbors and friends gathered on the home side of the stadium Thursday evening to remember the 16-year-old.
Early Monday morning, in the first week of summer vacation, King critically injured himself when he fell to the street while skateboarding in his Summerfield neighborhood.
He died the next day at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, and his visitation and funeral will be held this afternoon in Salisbury.
Eyes on being a Marine
The bare-bones version of his life will say King planned to follow older brother Noah’s footsteps and become a Marine.
A rising senior, Jonah already had filled out paperwork to join the Marine Corps as soon as he graduated in 2013. He had been a member of the Junior ROTC at West Rowan and, in his honor Thursday, the school posthumously promoted him to first sergeant and gave him the Superior Cadet Award.
His ROTC uniform, backed by a worn U.S. flag he used to raise and lower as part of the flag detail, was presented to his mother.
Bundles of blue and white balloons — the school colors — were tied to the bottom rails of the stadium, in the corner usually populated by the West Rowan Crazies.
The Crazies are the exuberant bunch of West students who support their athletic teams, and King — wild and painted — was always at the forefront of that group.
At football games, he was the guy who ran the flag up and down the sidelines after a Falcon touchdown.
King also belonged to the Young Life Christian group and, in death, became an organ donor — a selfless act that will end up improving or even saving the lives of others.
But again, that will be the short, obituary-type things recorded about King’s life.
Chandler Jones will remember when he and Noah King relented and allowed the younger Jonah to try dipping tobacco for the first time.
“He wasn’t ready for what he was about to go through,” Jones recalled.
Jonah ended up puking his guts out, then surprised the older kids by asking for another dip.
A song to remember him by
A sometimes girlfriend remembered how King would suddenly start singing, “Hey there, Delilah” to her.
“I would give anything to hear him sing that song one more time,” she said.
Though he didn’t play football after his freshman year, King remained relentless in the weight room. He told everybody about his bench press of 295 pounds, and Joshua Morris vouched for that fact Thursday night.
“He was insane to the point he would always try to one-up you,” Morris said of King’s driving personality.
Maybe King’s best friend, Sarah Perrine, informed the crowd that King hit the 315-mark last week. Something she thought everyone should know.
Another weight-lifting friend, Tacoma McNeely, laughed about the texts he would send to King, such as “Good morning, Sweetie.”
“He pushed me,” McNeely said. “He pushed me more than any coach — and he always tried to get me to do dip.”
Derwood Bynum, a teacher who sang a tribute to King, said the student would always razz him about being a terrible singer.
“There was no telling what that nut was going to do,” Bynum said, and you could see many heads nodding in agreement.
Student after student had stories. How Jonah stayed by a friend’s side all night at the prom after he found out she was pregnant. How “no matter what, he just made you feel good,” one friend said.
Another friend called him “the sunshine of Rowan County.” “If you were around him,” he said, “he brightened your day in his own magical way.”
Candles and fireflies
Harrison Baucom was a young neighborhood pest King once threatened to beat up.
“I was being Harrison, and he told me if I didn’t stop, he’d hurt me,” Baucom said. He still sees King riding on the back of a dirt bike with him.
An amazing thing happened Thursday night. As Baucom carried the West Rowan flag, everyone poured out of the stands, fell in behind the close friends and family and made a lap around the track.
As the circle finished in the darkness, they lit candles and gathered on the football field.
There were no stadium lights. No screams for touchdowns. Just candles and lightning bugs.
Fires for Jonah King. Fires that keep on burning.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.