Fairmont struggles to cope with deaths of football players

First Posted: 7/11/2012

FAIRMONT — Charlton Townsend admired Darius McCallum’s hit on an opposing ball carrier so much that he gave his rising senior teammate a roaring cheer at Fairmont High’s football practice Monday morning.

Hours later, McCallum was the lone survivor in the back seat of a 1994 Ford Thunderbird carrying five players that ran off the road and caromed into a tree on N.C. 41 around 8:58 p.m., an accident that took two lives and has shaken the Fairmont community.

June graduates Tyreke Addison and Nokolma Hunt, both 18, were killed in the single-car accident while driver Alex Gilchrist, The Robesonian’s 2011 Robeson County Player of the Year, and passenger Devont’e Govan, a budding defensive back, were rushed to Southeastern Regional Medical Center, where they have been treated and released.

According to a hospital spokesperson, McCallum was in fair condition this morning at Duke University Medical Center. Assistant coaches and players visited him in Durham Tuesday afternoon.

“We were going hard at practice in the morning and shooting around in the gym (Monday) afternoon,” Townsend said. “Then, someone told me what happened a few hours later and it shook me up. It was so wild. I just couldn’t believe what I heard.”

Michael Baker, Fairmont’s athletic director and head boys basketball coach, canceled all sports-related activities Tuesday and met with the families of the deceased during the afternoon. Most of the Fairmont’s administrative staff is away attending a school-related conference in New Orleans while head football coach James Atkinson confirmed Tuesday that he is planning on arriving back home from Las Vegas by the end of the week.

“Getting that phone call creates a very scary, a very sad situation for a coach,” Atkinson said. “The toughest thing for me is wanting to get back for those families and those players. We want to carry on what Tyreke and Nokolma started and dedicate this season to them.”

Jason Suggs, athletic director for the Public Schools of Robeson County, spent Monday night with Gilchrist and Govan at Southeastern Regional Medical Center before flying to Louisiana.

“It was such a tragic event to happen to two of the best kids I’ve ever known,” Suggs said. “I’ve been dealing with Tyreke since he was a freshman and he was always a well-mannered kid.”

News of the accident spread quickly throughout Fairmont, a close-knit town of 2,400. According to an SRMC spokesperson, an estimated 150 family members and friends arrived at the emergency room shortly after word spread of the accident. The social media explosion of up-to-the-minute updates came soon thereafter.

“I knew both of those kids since they were little,” said Reginald McRae, 29, a former youth football coach in Robeson County. “To watch children grow into men only to see their lives snatched from them, it’s deeply saddening.”

Fairmont Mayor Charles Kemp said the tragedy would bring the community closer together.

“Although I’m not a teacher at Fairmont High School, I know how much these young men — athletically and academically — meant to the school and I’m sure their friends and fellow students are crushed to hear the news,” he said. “It was a sad, sad thing that happened, but we are a family in Fairmont and we’re going to pull together and get through this.”

But that will take time.

“I barely got any sleep and wished it was a dream,” Townsend said.

“It’s not something I would’ve ever expected,” said Cain Wilkerson, a fellow member of Fairmont’s class of 2012. “All my life we’ve all been friends. Tyreke was always smiling, always happy and Nokolma had a way of making people laugh even if you were down.”

Reach Staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at [email protected]