Note: This story was updated at 4:32 p.m.
The Oak Ridge community honored sophomore James Joseph “Joey” Kocak during a candlelight vigil at Oak Ridge High School on Sunday.
Friends and coaches shared their memories of Kocak, who had played on the football and basketball teams this year, during the candlelight vigil at Ben Martin Track at ORHS.
They encouraged the large crowd that attended to preserve their precious memories of Kocak, a 16-year-old sophomore who passed away at his home on Wednesday, March 4.
“I really hope that this isn’t the last time we’ll honor him,” said Mollie Turner.
Friends and coaches recalled Kocak’s memorable smirk, his playful moments, and his high-pitched singing on the back of the bus, belting out tunes like “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
Oak Ridge Wildcats football coach Joe Gaddis said Kocak was excited about getting bigger and stronger and the upcoming football season.
Even sitting on the bench at basketball games was enjoyable with Kocak, said sophomore DeMarea Whitt.
Friend Wilson Hammer remembered what he thought when he first met Kocak at Jefferson Middle School: “Dang, this dude is tall.” Kocak was listed as a 6-foot-6 center on the basketball team this year.
Gaddis said the sophomore was a coach’s dream, a player who always worked hard and didn’t complain. He was always polite, respectful, and had a huge smile, said Phil Thompson, Wildcats defensive line coach.
Sunday’s candelight vigil included the song “Amazing Grace,” a prayer, and the release of balloons by sophomores, and words of comfort for friends, family members, and students still struggling to find answers. Several hundred people attended.
Friend Liam Hale said Kocak, who was also a musician, was an optimistic Renaissance man with a great work ethic and straight A grades—the best teammate anyone could ask for.
The Kocak family will receive friends at St. Mary’s Catholic Church from 5-7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 9. The Mass will begin at 7:30 p.m. with Father Bede Aboh officiating. A reception at the church will follow.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in memory of Joey Kocak to St Mary’s Catholic Church, 327 Vermont Ave., Oak Ridge, TN 37831, or the Sister City Support Organization, c/o Jerry Luckmann, 103 Clayton Way, Oak Ridge, TN 37830.
Gaddis said the family is surrounded by friends and family members right now, but he asked the community to remember to keep the Kocak family in mind in a week or so when most people start returning to their normal routines. He also encouraged students to talk to their coaches, counselors, parents, friends, and family when problems seem insurmountable.
“Don’t hold it in,” Gaddis said.
Hammer said it was the “little stuff that counts” in his memories of his friend, and Kocak had had an impact on everyone who attended the vigil.
“What I’m trying to convey to everybody is that Joey loved you,” Hammer said.