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Remembering Jovan, 10 Years Later

Havre de Grace Patch Editor Sean Welsh reflects on a friend's death.

I was just down the street from home, visiting my grandparents’ house in the late afternoon on May 26, 2001.

A couple days before graduation, taking a few minutes away from a hectic senior schedule to visit family.

The phone rang, and it was my parents, asking me to come home immediately.

I must have forgotten to finish some chores, I figured.

Not quite.

The news struck like a knife through the heart.

I spent the next hour or so—I don’t know, time was out of line at that point—in the basement at Will Felix’s house in Bayview Estates, before heading to Miranda Powell's house in Perryville for the night.

Hugs. Tears. Stories. Laughs. Questions.

Jovan Brooks had died in a car accident. Three days before graduation, our classmate and close friend was taken from us.

But in his departure, Jovan left us with so much more.

I had only known Jovan for two years, but we became good friends—primarily through sports.

The most vivid memories for me were in gym class, where Will, Jovan and I became really close after Jovan transferred to Havre de Grace from Aberdeen. Jovan had a way of including everyone, making up nicknames for other classmates that didn’t always fit in.

In his passing, Jovan brought everyone together.

We might have been headed in any number of directions. But we were all brought back together for those final days leading up to and through graduation.

Today we’re trying to raise money in Jovan’s name, to help benefit a scholarship named after the multi-sport athlete, charming human being, and hilarious friend.

The Jovan Brooks Memorial Scholarship is still in place, rewarding deserving student-athletes following in Jovan’s legacy.

We’re holding a golf tournament June 11 at Wetlands Golf Course, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting Jovan’s scholarship.

Today is the 10-year anniversary of Jovan’s death. In a way, it feels like yesterday.

Facebook blew up with status updates and comments from classmates, friends and neighbors remembering Jovan.

References to his No. 10—retired on the football field for Havre de Grace.

The mix of emotions leading up to graduation were going to be tough on all of us as it was—a tight-knit senior class of 124, many of whom had known each other since we were in first grade. Some even longer than that.

I only knew Jovan for two years, but I loved him just as much as I did those friends I shared a kindergarten classroom with at Meadowvale.

Baccalaureate and graduation were painful—but both were necessary parts of the healing process.

I sat next to Will Felix at graduation. It's been almost a year since I’ve seen Will, but there’s a friendship there that will never waver. It’s that way with a lot of my former classmates.

Jovan is a part of that.

We only won one game in football senior year: the season-opening Susquehanna Bowl against Perryville.

We probably would have had another one or two in there if it wasn’t for silly penalties on the 70- and 80-yard runs Jovan would reel off.

He would hit pay dirt, and a flag would be laying in the dirt we called Harris Stadium.

There’s a new stadium now.

I wrote a column for The Aegis a few years back when it seemed like the stadium would be coming to completion. I urged the decision-makers to name the final piece—the still-anticipated field house, to include locker rooms, a snack bar and permanent bathrooms—after Jovan Brooks.

I think we need to revisit that.

The building. A team room. Something.

Jovan was a supreme person and a superb athlete who came through at a down time in Havre de Grace athletics.

He would have been one of the stars if he were on the field for his dad’s team this fall.

Imagine what those long runs would have looked like with the new grandstand and the new turf.

While he was an amazing athlete—I could tell he was toning it down in gym class, so others wouldn’t be embarrassed as he dominated whatever game we played—Jovan never took himself too seriously.

He tried to join me in kicking field goals one day after practice, losing a shoe and falling down as everyone laughed. Jovan laughed, too.

I talked him into trying out for baseball junior year, even though he hadn’t played since he was much younger. He was cut from the talented, deep team that reached the region final. Most of us were shocked.

Despite being the best athlete on the field, Jovan went on. Nothing about him changed.

But looking back at the last 20 years, a lot—including the football stadium—has changed.

Next year, there will be a new coach, too.

In many ways, it was like Jovan never left HHS. Coach Brooks was there—until this year’s final day, when he’ll begin the transition to Aberdeen.

If my lasting memories of Jovan from the two years I knew him were in gym class and on the athletic field, then the lasting memory of the days following his death were on the stage at graduation—surrounding his family.

Kenny Hunter, Jovan’s cousin and one of the managers of our football team as an eighth-grader, had accepted an athletic award on Jovan’s behalf.

Johnny Brooks accepted his diploma, crossing the stage in sunglasses to a standing ovation from our class of 124 and the standing-room-only crowd in the auditorium.

Jovan’s seat—from which he beamed the day before his accident, wearing a bright yellow button-down shirt and smiling with all of us at rehearsal—remained open, covered by his jersey and some other items.

After graduation day, Jovan’s funeral, and a few graduation parties, many of us went off to Senior Week in Ocean City, where we had t-shirts made in Jovan’s memory.

I still have mine.

I know I’m not alone.

———

I thought for weeks—months, even—about what I would write when this day came.

Jovan meant so much to so many. And for that reason, there’s no way I can sum up Jovan in a single column. Instead, I hope this can become a forum to remember Jovan’s life.

I want to hear your thoughts and see your photos in memory of Jovan.

Karol Bloch May 27, 2011 at 04:02 AM
What a heart-warming article. I too spend May 26th of every year remembering all the ways Jovan has touched my life even 10 years after his passing. He reminds me to enjoy the many blessings I have and the people I hold dear to me. It's still very hard this time of year...I say a silent prayer in hopes that every graduating senior will make it across the stage. I love my HHS family and will continue to keep Jovan's memory alive.
Karen green May 27, 2011 at 02:17 PM
Sean, this was a touching tribute as were the comments. My fondest memory of the Class of 2001 was at the S.M.I.L.E. S. ' Banquet. Jovan and a wily group of Club members sang a rousing rendition of "Lean on Me" dedicated to Don Osman. It brought the attendees to their feet. It was a night to remember. A few days later, I was traveling from Churchville and had to be reouted due to an accident. It was THE ACCIDENT. I drove to the police station and Captain Rimel told me what had happened. I was devastated. I had been arranging a trip for Jovan to go to Atlanta... The graduates of 2001 had a rainy day. It seemed like such a dreary day and then, the skies cleared and as the class was ready to cross the stage a double rainbow appaered. Typical Jovan. A signal to his classmates and to his family that all was well and he was lighting up and dazzling in another way. A classy way to say, "I'm still with you."
Jeff May 27, 2011 at 03:38 PM
Mrs. Karen - Your comment about the rainy day when we graduated in 2001 is so accurate. I remember it was damp and dreary. At one point during the ceremony i remember hearing thunder and rain slamming down on the roof of the auditorium. I still think that Jovan taught us how to to be close and cherish the relationships we have. I think it is very unique how the class of '01 is still very close. I will never forget having to sit next to the empty seat on stage, and giving Mr. Brooks the standing ovation. Thanks for writing the article.
Jenee Aigner May 27, 2011 at 08:04 PM
Sean, this was a very touching article. Jovan was definitely a remarkable person who will hold a place in several people's hearts. I wasn't a member of the 2001 graduating class, and I only had the pleasure of being around Jovan for 2 years as well. My memory of him is Jovan walking through the girls basketball practices showing us the correct technique for a jump shot. I was pulled up to varsity as a sophomore, and Jovan was in my gym class practicing jump shots with me quite often. He'll never be forgotten :)
Renee (Spence) Tramell May 28, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Jovan was one of those people who you felt like you had known forever. He always made you feel comforatable around him. Jovan could always make you laugh--even if you were having a horrible day. I never saw him in a bad mood, or not having fun. His smile was infectious. We had many fun times together, and he will never be forgotten. Renee Spence Tramell

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