A press conference was held by the West Orange – Cove Consolidated Independent School District yesterday afternoon at the West Orange-Stark High School Library. This allowed the press and public to get to know a side of Reggie Garrett that few knew.

Reggie Garrett, a WO-S senior and quarterback, passed away during the football game on Friday, Sept. 17 against Jasper.

“We want to show more of ‘Reggie the student’,” said Hutcherson Hill, newly appointed principal for WO-S High School.”There has been a lot of information about Reggie the athlete, but we really want the public to understand how special a young man he was as an academic.”

“This is my 42nd year as a Texas educator and I can tell you, with great assurance, that Reggie was one of the finest students I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing and working with,” said Ken Wernig, senior English teacher and Dual Credit Instructor.

Wernig said that Garrett was enrolled in dual-credit classes in conjunction with Lamar State College-Orange (LSC-O). “I’m sorry to have to tell you, but he is probably a far better writer than I’ll ever be. He was very gifted and talented.”

Three students, all of whom were good friends with Garrett, volunteered their time to help the community understand just how wonderful this young man was.

“Reggie was a very jubilant individual. Not once did you ever cry or shed a tear over Reggie,” stated Jacy Jones. Jones, a fellow senior and classmate of Garrett’s, said that they had a special bond. He would call her “mother” and she would call him “son.” She explained that Garrett would come to her when he had a problem and she would help advise him on the decisions he should make. “He referred to me as his personal confidant.”

“Reggie was like my brother,” Dre’ Hypolite, fellow senior and teammate said. “He was a great guy, not just in school and sports, but outside of school. He kept a smile on his face.”

“Reggie was one of my long-time best friends,” said Luke Domas, another fellow senior and teammate. “We ended up meeting in the second grade. From then on, we hit it off. I can’t name one day that we didn’t talk to each other.”

“He used to call me his rock on the field just because we expected each other to do what he we had to do to enable the team to do its best,” Domas said. “That center/quarterback relationship became very strong.”

Jones explained that Garrett was a very artistic and creative person. “He used to tell me that he wanted to be an architect.” She said his favorite classes were English and Science. “He liked to express himself in a creative form and, in English [class], you can do that by putting your thoughts, your feelings, everything on paper without having to get up and speak about it.” He also loved Science class because he was a very hands-on person.

“Academics was first with Reggie,” Hypolite said. “He really strived to further his education. He wanted to go to college, he wanted to go to a good college.”

Hypolite shared his favorite memory, “On Thursday or Friday, we were supposed to do a performance on the preamble of the Constitution. His group got up there and sang their heart out like Prince.” Hypolite said that Garrett’s group had the entire crowd laughing so hard they were crying.

One of the first essays Garrett wrote for Mr. Wernig’s English class was a self description. “One of the things he said of himself was he was very careful in choosing his words,” Wernig said. “In fact, on re-reading that essay, I got to thinking that one of the best words about Reggie Garrett was that, in all things, he was careful. He was a care-filled young man.”

Wernig went on to explain that Garrett was care-filled for everyone’s feelings. Not just for the pretty, the popular and the powerful. “One girl said to the counselor, ‘I know that I am not pretty and I know that I am not popular, but Reggie Garrett ALWAYS was nice to me.’ What a credit to so tall, so handsome, so talented, and to so capable young man, that he, indeed, was careful of everyone’s feelings”

The student body knew a fun, playful side of Garrett, while the teachers and faculty as WO-S knew a more serious, quiet side. “He was really laid back,” said Wernig. “He was comfortably quiet. He was not one to volunteer a lot, but when asked a question, he answered it wonderfully.”

“He was warm, sensitive, respectful and he was a student that would be a positive role model and an example to all of our students,” said Iberia Smith, school counselor. “I’ve have had the pleasure of being Reggie’s counselor in elementary school and here as well. I would have to say that he is an exquisite person.”

“There was nothing about him prideful,” Wernig said, “and he always had much to be proud of.”

“He wasn’t boastful,” Smith said. “He was very humble and very supportive of [the other students]. He wasn’t one to make fun of others weaknesses.”

“I didn’t have the opportunity to know Reggie well,” Principal Hill said. “One thing I gathered from my experience, my own personal moments, when you meet the young man, there’s just an aura of natural respect for him because of the way he carries himself.”

Everyone has been agreement that he was a natural born leader. Garrett never showed it, but he modeled it. Counselor Smith said that she’s heard many students described him as their strength. At first they felt like they couldn’t go on without that strength. Smith said that as the week has gone by, that strength has helped them cope and go on.

Many counselors have turned out from all over the area to show support and help the students and staff. Clergy and community leaders have also offered their help “We really want to say thank you to everyone because it really has been a devastating experience and great loss to us,” Smith said.

The staff and faculty at WO-S are, of course, having a difficult time coping with the loss of this young man. “We’ve made it through this week by being with our students,” Smith said. They cry, laugh, hug and support each other. There was a room that was setup up specifically for the teachers so that, if they needed a moment to compose themselves, a private room would be available. Smith said that the room has never been used. “Our teachers and staff stayed with the students because that’s where we need to be,” Smith said.

Principal Hill is trying to establish some sort of normalcy for these children but it hasn’t been an easy task being the new principal. “My wife told me ‘God put you here for a reason.’ He doesn’t make mistakes.”

“I feel like we can go on because has has touched our lives,” Smith stated. “We can go on to be better people, students, adults, staff and faculty just by having known Reggie and the way he lived. Our family, the Mustangs, we’re coping. Reggie always said ‘give 112 percent’ and that’s what we plan on doing.

“I will rejoice Reggie each day because that’s the type of person he is and that’s he would like for us to do,” said Jones.

“I am sure that, as we still care for him, I firmly believe he still cares for us,” Wernig said. “I told his parents, beautiful children are accidents of nature. They just happen. But good kids are lots of work and sweat and tears. Work on the family’s part and work on the young person’s part. To turn out be the fine young man that Reggie was, was lots of work. And the was careful in ALL the work that he did.”

Plans are being made to retire his jersey number. Principal Hill mentioned that an aluminum copy of his jersey will be made and permanently hung at the Dan R. Hooks stadium at WO-S High School. There has also been some discussion about how WO-S will memorialize Garrett, but nothing has been set in stone. “That process will take some consideration, but when we do it, we want to make sure and do it right,” Hill said. “We want to take some time and get through this period in our lives right now.”

About 1,500 decals of Garrett’s jersey number, the number 12, will be made and sent to all of the Southeast Texas football teams to wear on their helmets. WO-S football players will be wearing the decal as well.

A memorial for Reggie Garrett Jr. will be held on Friday, Sept 24 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Dan R. Hooks Stadium. Funeral services will be held at the Community Church on MLK in Orange on Saturday, Sept. 25 at noon, in honor of Garrett’s jersey number. Visitation will be from 9 to 11 a.m.

About Nicole Gibbs

Editor of The Record Newspapers