A day to say farewell

Football played a large part in James Parker’s life and the reminders were everywhere Friday.

All manner of football jerseys — some from area high schools and some from their more famous NFL counterparts — were worn by mourners who celebrated Parker’s short life during a two-and-one-half hour service at Hylton Memorial Chapel.

Parker, 17, an all-state linebacker for Hylton’s state championship football team, was killed March 28 in an apparent accidental shooting as he sat in a car with a friend in Dale City.

His family had requested his friends adopt the casual attire which included blue jeans to highlight the football stand-out’s accomplishments on the field.

And football was everywhere — from the momentos inside the chapel’s foyer to the bouquets surrounding Parker’s casket.

A collage of photos with the pronouncement “A New Star is Born” sat just outside the chapel near a signed football and two teddy bears — one wearing a Hylton sweater and the other holding red roses and a photo. The bears were appropriate. Bear was Parker’s nickname.

Two hours before the service began, the line of mourners stretched the length of the sanctuary and into the foyer. By the time it started, nearly all of the chapel’s lower level was filled.

And while football was a major theme at the service, it was hardly the only one.

Parker was remembered for his kindness.

“He was kind-hearted … he didn’t run with the troubled crowd,” said one mourner who is close to the family but asked not to be identified. “Basically he just did what his mother told him to do. It’s hard to put into words.”

Hylton coach Lou Sorrentino, one of the speakers, used terms like humble, compassionate and a man of integrity.

“I hope we can live up to his legacy,” said Sorrentino, who added that Parker would have been one of Hylton’s captains next season.

As R.J. Dawson — one of Parker’s teammates — sang Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” he invited all of the football players in the chapel to join him onstage. The risers behind the pulpit quickly filled with players from Hylton, Gar-Field, Forest Park, Woodbridge and Potomac.

As Dawson’s song wound down, all of the players put their arms around each other in a giant group hug before filing back to their seats.

“That’s the most heartening thing I’ve ever seen,” said Sorrentino, who took the stage just after Dawson’s song.

John Morris, another of Parker’s teammates, sang and received a standing ovation. Morris, who also read a prayer, helped in the musical accompaniment, as did Dawson.

Just as Sorrentino remembered Parker’s kindness, his family recalled his athletic achievements as well as what he meant to them as a person.

“Little soldier, we’ll never forget you. You still can’t be stopped,” said one of several family members to speak during the family’s tribute.

Another family member recalled playing a game with Parker and his brothers during their youth, along with practical jokes they’d play on him. The comments elicited some laughter from the audience.

The Rev. Virdell Buffington Jr. recalled Parker’s smiles — smiles that often spawned more of the same from those around him.

“He always had that smile, even when he was little, that would make you love him to death,” Buffington said during his eulogy.

After Buffington’s eulogy, Parker’s teammates requested that a highlight tape be played. The tape featured football highlights and photos interspersed with interviews from Wednesday night’s prayer service.

The graveside service at Grayson Cemetery in Stafford County was attended by Parker’s immediate family only. That request was made because of traffic concerns in addition to the lack of parking at the cemetery.

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