PHILADELPHIA — When a group of Mainland Regional High School students bought tickets months ago to the Phillies vs. New York Mets game Tuesday night, they planned to celebrate the end of the summer and the beginning of their senior year of high school.
Instead, with the help of Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, they remembered four Mainland football players who died in a car accident Saturday.
The Phillies held a moment of silence before the game for Casey Brenner, 17, of Northfield; Edgar Bozzi, 17, of Somers Point, Dean Khoury, 15, of Linwood and Nicholas Conner, 16, of Northfield. The sellout crowd of 45,770 fans at Citizens Bank Park rose from their seats for the four boys who died Saturday when the SUV they were in overturned near exit 38A southbound of the Garden State Parkway.
“It was inspirational,” 16-year-old Mainland football player Cole Gasperini said of the ceremony.
A group of 100 — mostly students — stood behind Section 211 during the moment of silence.
The players wore their green home football jerseys. Some students held signs that read: “Forever in our hearts” and “R.I.P. Casey, Edgar, Dean, Nick.”
The deceased boys names appeared on the scoreboard below the Mainland logo.
Ted Khoury, Dean’s father, was at the game Tuesday. His son Brian, Dean’s older brother, had bought a ticket. As they bicycled to the funeral home Sunday, Brian asked his dad if he should still attend the contest.
“I told him he should absolutely go,” Ted said after Tuesday’s moment of silence. “It’s nice to see the kids smile. Everybody’s cried out right now, but we’ll start again.”
Jenn Eisenberg, who will be a senior at Mainland in September, tweeted Rollins on Sunday, asking if the shortstop could arrange the moment of silence. Casey Brenner was supposed to attend the game.
“We had this game-planned for months. It was kind of like a senior trip,” Eisenberg, 17, of Linwood said. “We were all deciding if we still wanted to come to the game after the accident. We decided the boys would want us to come.”
Eisenberg reached out to Rollins after he tweeted about the Mainland tragedy Sunday night. He asked fans to pray for the families and friends of the crash victims.
Eisenberg tweeted Rollins back, telling him she was going to Tuesday’s game and asked if there could be a moment of silence for the victims.
“I didn’t think he was going to tweet back, but he did,” she said.
Rollins tweeted back, saying he would see what he could do. Soon after, Eisenberg received an email from the Phillies, telling her the team would observe a moment of silence.
“It was really nice (the Phillies) reached out to our community,” Eisenberg said. “This is a class organization. They took the time to help people they didn’t know. It shows they’re grieving with us, and we’re not alone.”
Rollins didn’t stop there. On Monday, he retweeted a message from Ryan Brenner, Casey’s younger brother. Rollins also tweeted a message to Ryan.
“Sorry for (your) loss,” Rollins tweeted Monday night. “I can’t imagine losing my brother!!! Stay strong.”
Rollins’ tweets were a big deal to the Mainland community and students.
“He put a face on the outpouring of support,” Ted Khoury said. “They all knew their parents cared, the friends and coaches cared. But for someone from the outside who is so well respected …”
Rollins didn’t want to comment on his tweets. Kevin Gregg, coordinator of baseball communications, said the player didn’t want to call attention to himself and away from the tragedy.
“That says a lot about Jimmy,” Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino said before the game. “He didn’t have to do that. It’s a testament to him and what he means to the city and its fans.”
The Phillies often reach out to families involved in tragedies.
“This is a good bunch of guys,” Victorino said. “We understand fans mean as much to us as we do to them. You look at it as a way to ease their minds. Give them a couple of hours. That’s what this team does so well.
“We are baseball players. We are professional athletes. But outside of that we put on our shirts the same way you do.”
Originally, between 25 and 30 Mainland students were supposed to go to Tuesday’s game. But when word of the moment of silence began to spread throughout Northfield, Linwood and Somers Point on Tuesday afternoon, people connected to Mainland began buying standing-room-only tickets.
Between 150 and 200 people connected to Mainland attended the game. They arrived at Citizens Bank in jitneys and limousines. Some fans approached Mainland players and students and said they were sorry and gave them hugs of support.
As the game wore on, the Mainland contingent looked like any other group of fans. They ate cheesesteaks and French fries and cheered when John Mayberry Jr. hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the third inning.
The game gave the students a chance to exhale and smile before the funerals start later this week.
“Nothing is going to take away what we’re feeling,” Eisenberg said. “But it’s nice to have one nice day before everything starts up again.”
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