Fans were sparse as Lake Taylor players gathered before the opening kickoff… (Steve Earley/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT )
David White was smoking a cigarette when he arrived at the home of his friend Jamal Hamilton on the last Friday in September, looking for a ride to that night’s Lake Taylor High School football game. White was in his senior year at the Norfolk school, but he rarely went to watch Lake Taylor play football. On this night, however, he was in a rush to meet up with a girl at the Titans’ game at nearby Booker T. Washington.
Hamilton told White to get in the car and even gave his friend five dollars for a ticket and a gray Chicago White Sox snapback hat to wear, so he could arrive at the bleachers in style.
Hamilton dropped White off at the McDonald’s near Booker T. Washington’s stadium at around 7 o’clock, and before White got out of the 1999 Oldsmobile, Hamilton said to him, “Don’t do nothing stupid.”
A couple hours later, at about 9:15 p.m., White was dead, gunned down while walking home after the game. A 15-year-old acquaintance has been arrested and charged with murder.
The killing rocked Norfolk, and a few days later, the school district responded by moving all Friday night football games hosted by its five high schools to Saturday afternoons for the rest of the season. The city is wrestling with a difficult series of questions: How can schools keep students safe while preserving traditions enjoyed by players and fans alike? When Friday night lights move to Saturday afternoons, what is gained and what is lost?
At the news conference to announce the decision last week, the school district stood firm alongside the Norfolk police and sheriff, making it clear that daylight would be one of the city’s most important allies in preventing another death.
“We are not omnipresent 24 hours of each day,” said Norfolk Public Schools superintendent Dr. Samuel King, addressing reporters at the press conference. “We as citizens of Norfolk must all join together in a united front to help keep our streets and neighborhoods safe.”
High school football Fridays, an American symbol that attracts even casual fans like David White, didn’t kill the 19-year-old. But in Norfolk, it currently is associated with the dangers of night, and is a reminder of his death.
Sleepy place in light of day
A week after the shooting, White’s funeral and the first Saturday football game for Lake Taylor were both scheduled for the same afternoon.
Hundreds of mourners packed the Metropolitan Funeral Home on Berkeley Avenue in Norfolk on Oct. 6, escaping 90-degree heat outside. A three-piece band played in the corner, and ministers read aloud from the Bible.
Speakers denounced violence, and called for people in the crowd not to retaliate in the streets. Sympathy cards from principals at Booker T. Washington and Lake Taylor were sent and read aloud.
White was remembered as a boy who had grown into a man, and he was only one class shy of graduating from Lake Taylor. He was preparing for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test to gain entrance into the Navy after high school, and one of his dreams was to travel the world. His teachers called him “King David” because of his reputed devotion to Sunday school at the Good Shepherd International Miracle Center, and his friends remembered him as “Deeboy,” a dude that could really sing.
As White’s casket was carried outside after the service, it was already the second quarter of Lake Taylor’s home game against Maury. About 300 people sat in the sleepy stadium, which usually holds around 2,000 fans on a rocking Friday night.
The student body was absent, and the Lake Taylor band wasn’t playing. The cheerleaders weren’t in attendance. With no neighborhoods surrounding the campus, Lake Taylor is considered a commuter school, where students often travel from long distances across town just to make classes, let alone Friday night football games.
On Saturday, many fans in the stands used umbrellas to shield the sun, and cheering was thin enough to hear the voices of the coaches, screaming at their players on the field. During halftime of the game, which Lake Taylor won 48-14, the announcers in the press box informed the crowd of the current scores at the other Norfolk high school games. Then they listed scores from around college football.
A Norfolk police officer with a hand-held metal detector was posted at each stadium entrance. While security has historically been a priority at Norfolk high school football games, the police department escalated its presence for the afternoon games across the area, which included 10 officers at the Lake Taylor game.
According to Norfolk police, White knew the 15-year-old who has been arrested and charged with his murder, but they don’t know to what extent. One of the things the department does know is that the gunman was able to disappear into the night after the shooting, and the first Saturday of games was an attempt to use the sun and more officers to prevent a similar incident.
‘Normally, you’re resting’