Signs of mourning spread far beyond the grounds of Mainland Regional High School on Monday as businesses and municipalities showed their solidarity with the school's fallen athletes.
Linwood, Northfield and Somers Point - the communities that send students to the Linwood school - have already lowered their flags to half staff. Egg Harbor Township, whose high school is a long-time Mainland rival, pledged to do the same Monday.
"Atlantic County is such a small place, so everyone knows everyone," said Township Administrator Peter Miller, adding that many EHT residents grew up in the Mainland towns.
Businesses and schools throughout the region have put up flags and signs with messages of support for the school and its students after four football players - Edgar Bozzi, 16, of Somers Point; the driver Casey Brenner, 17, of Northfield; Dean Khoury, 15, of Linwood; and Nick Conner, 16, of Northfield - were killed Saturday morning in a car crash. Four other athletes - Alex DeNafo, 16, of Northfield, Jacob Smith, 17, of Linwood, Kyle Beattie, 16, of Northfield, and Kenneth Randall, 15, of Linwood - were injured.
Jude Maurer, office manager of Tilt-In Windows and Siding in Northfield, said several passers-by have stopped just to thank them for the sign they put up Monday morning. He said the owner, Leonard Petrillie, had two children play Mainland football and Maurer expects his own children to attend the school.
"They're quite upset, as we all are, for what happened," he said.
Century 21 Alliance, in Linwood, also put out a sign first thing Monday morning that stated, “Our thoughts & prayers are with the MRHS families."
"It breaks our hearts - we can't even imagine what it's like (for those families)," Realtor Lerena Mullen said. "But we want them to know we are thinking about them and praying for them."
Like most small towns, Mullen said football is engrained in the culture of the area. But the connection goes deeper than that, she said.
"The school's a huge part of the draw for people to purchase homes in Linwood," she said. "I moved here 22 years ago in large part because of the reputation the high school had."
Linwood Mayor Richard DePamphilis said there is a "family of never-ending men that go through" the school's football program, as reflected by the 3,000 people who attended Sunday's candlelight vigil.
"I'm sure there were past, present and future Mainland football players there," he said. "It's a very close-knit football family."
DePamphilis, who was president of the Mainland Sports Boosters for four years and whose three sons all played on the team, said the loss affected him greatly.
But there is also a benefit to how well-connected the community is, he said.
"I can't imagine what they're going through," he said. "But it doesn't hurt to have your family and extended family around you at times like this."
Northfield Mayor Vince Mazzeo said the mayors of all three mainland towns decided shortly after the accident that they would work together to show their support for the families.
"Lowering the flags to half staff is something we all agreed was a good thing to do for the community," said Mazzeo, whose son is a junior at Mainland.
As a Mainland parent, he said he remembers Brenner playing point guard with his son on the basketball team.
"The visuals of these boys playing - you're saddened you're not going to have that anymore," he said.
Mayor Jake Glassey, of Somers Point, said the flag-lowering is a symbolic gesture, but he expects more concrete plans for fundraisers and gatherings in the coming weeks.
"There's not a lot you can say to give them comfort, but we can be there in support for them as cities," he said.
Egg Harbor Township Mayor James "Sonny" McCullough said the township's golf course, McCullough's Emerald Links, lowered its flags and Town Hall would soon follow.
"Mainland has been very supportive of the golf course for years," he said. "They had a lot of their fundraisers, and a lot of athletic events, held there."
Despite the football rivalry, which culminates in an annual Thanksgiving game, McCullough said the bonds between EHT and the mainland towns are strong. "There is a closeness and a sadness we're all sharing," he said.
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