The century-old stone church filled more than an hour before the farewells were said to Hank Gathers today by his Loyola Marymount teammates, friends and relatives at a “Service of Triumph” that lasted more than two hours.
There were 500 mourners inside Emanuel Institutional Baptist Church and 600 more standing outside in the warm sunshine. Loudspeakers had been installed so everyone could hear coaches and congressmen remember the athlete.
Burial was immediately after the service at Mount Lawn cemetery.
Gathers, 23, died a week ago Sunday after collapsing during a basketball game in Los Angeles. He had a condition diagnosed as an irregular heartbeat and was under orders to take medication.
A large floral display above the casket at the front of the church had lettered in blue flowers on a white background, “My Son.” Another at his head said in red, “Hank MVP 44"--Gathers’ uniform number at Loyola.
“We came to show our unified love and concern for him and his family,” Loyola Marymount Coach Paul Westhead said Sunday night. He described Gathers as a “great friend that I personally and all the players loved.”
Today, Westhead said: “It was Hank’s team. We played for him.”
Derrick Gathers told the congregation that he will always remember his brother as “a very positive person. He was loyal to his family, friends and fans.”
Members of the Loyola team were pall bearers.
People began arriving outside the church an hour before the doors opened at dusk Sunday night.
Mourners were taken into the church Sunday 10 at a time, then ushered quickly past the coffin.
One group carried a placard decorated with roses and signed by about 100 people from Gathers’ old neighborhood, Jean Wallace said.
Wallace, who lived behind the Gathers family, said: “He was a nice, quiet man. When he came home, all the kids would run to him. He always was patient with children, always took time for them.”
Behind Wallace was a group of youngsters who played ball with Gathers during summer mini-camps.
“He was all right,” 13-year-old Rahime Wagner said. “We’ll miss him. Most definitely.”
In addition to playing basketball, Gathers would talk to them about their goals in life.
“He used to tell us, ‘Don’t do drugs,’ stuff like that,” Rahime said.
“And if we got suspended, he’d say, ‘Don’t do that. You got to stay in school,’ ” added 12-year-old Aubrey Brown.
He wasn’t just a hero for the neighborhood kids, Robert Wilkins said.
“All the people in the neighborhood were rooting for him,” Wilkins, 26, said. “If Hank would have made it, we all would have felt like we were part of it. Like we could do the same.”
Clarence Chambers, 22, played on the South Philadelphia High School team that lost the Philadelphia Public League championship game to Gathers-led Murrell Dobbins Technical High School in 1985.
“They beat us good,” he said. “You could see this guy had potential even then.”
He pointed to the large crowd waiting to pay their respects.
“Someone with such a big heart touched so many people,” he said.