The balloons drifted high into the sky as all those at Carson High’s Ron McNutt Field who released them looked upward.
Along with being a tribute to their lost loved ones, the balloon release also was a way for those who participated to show how this community has come together, how it has become stronger and to cope with their loss.
As CHS senior Crystal Vargas, who came up with the idea for Monday night’s memorial service, said, “Release the balloons to let out all of the pain that you’ve kept in.”
Vargas, a CHS Health and Occupations Students of American (HOSA) student, admitted she’s had a tough time dealing with the loss of Tim Jones, who played baseball at CHS.
“It’s been a year,” she said. “I haven’t coped well with it.”
CHS students and those from the community participated in the Celebration of Life on Monday night to honor lost loved ones.
Those who participated in the service were able to purchase a balloon and a heart message card for $4. Those who participated could attach the card with a message to their lost loved to the balloon they released.
Vargas said she wanted to “give a message to heaven that Timmy will read and know we all miss him down here.”
But CHS HOSA adviser Frank Sakelarios said Vargas’ idea for honoring Jones at first became a way for everyone in the community to honor lost loved ones after consulting with the CHS baseball coaches.
“It began as a memorial service for Timmy but it just became a memorial service for everyone who lost a loved one,” said CHS HOSA student Bianca Sanchez, a junior.
And Vargas agreed, saying, “I wanted it to be for the whole community. When we come together it’s just better for us to cope with the pain.”
About his HOSA students putting together the service, Sakelarios said, “Very proud of these students.”
The service was held on the one-year anniversary of Jones’ death, who died on November 26, 2017. Jones died as a result of an automobile crash on Kings Canyon Road that injured six other high school students, five from CHS and one from Dayton.
Alize Gonzalez, another CHS HOSA student and a junior, said the service was meaningful to her because she lost her cousin, Stephanie Gonzalez, when she drowned. She said she wants to help those who have lost loved ones “just to make it better.”
Angila Golik, who served as master of ceremonies for the service, talked about the magnificent rainbow that enveloped the area on Friday. She said it was noteworthy to her that it came the day after Thanksgiving because her father died four days before Thanksgiving.
She added her father died while she was pregnant with his granddaughter, Hannah Golik, who went on to become Carson High’s salutatorian for the class of 2018.
Sakelarios noted CHS and the community has had its share of loss in the last year. “This is a way to memorialize all of those things,” he said.
Among those who CHS lost in 2018 was longtime coach and teacher Shane Quilling, who died unexpectedly at the age of 53 in February.
Quilling’s son, Connor Quilling, a 2017 CHS graduate who had an outstanding athletic career at Carson, was among those at the service.
“We’ve just got to get through all of the firsts,” said Connor about dealing with days like Father’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up without his father. “What we’re focused on is getting through that and staying close.”
“He was the father everybody would have imagined to be your dad,” Connor also said. “He just wanted you to be happy. He was the dad that supported you no matter what.”
Connor added his father could be tough, but said he was always supportive. “He was tough, but it was a good tough,” he said.
The service also featured a beautiful rendition of “Halo,” sung by Cassidy Painter.
CHS baseball coach Bryan Manoukian announced the proceeds from the service would go to the Tim Jones HOSA Scholarship, which is awarded to a CHS student.
Manoukian also acknowledged how the community rallied after the Kings Canyon crash. He also thanked the first responders who he said because of their effort, six of the students survived the crash.
He also acknowledged Stefanie Schmidt, now a junior who played volleyball at CHS. Schmidt was left paralyzed as a result of the crash.
“Her perseverance, her inspiration makes me want to be a better person,” he said.
“It’s been a rough year,” Schmidt said. “I’ve been so thankful for my friends, my family and my community for supporting me through all this.”