Tears streamed down the faces of Angela and Leroy Merriweather on Tuesday night at the Holt High School gymnasium before the boys basketball Class 4A sub-regional playoff game.
The capacity crowd at the gym sat in silence as the members of the Ironmen team walked onto the court and presented the Merriweathers with a framed purple No. 4 jersey and a pair of red basketball sneakers.
The jersey and the sneakers belonged to the Merriweathers' son, Jalen, an 18-year-old Holt basketball player who was shot and killed Feb. 9. Police say Jalen was killed while defending his older sister during a domestic abuse incident.
“He was a hero,” Holt coach Steven Watkins said of Jalen. “Whether it’s your teacher, preacher or coach, you always talk about doing the right thing. That’s what Jalen is, and that’s what Jalen did.”
When the players and the parents finally separated, the crowd's silence had still not been broken. Angela Merriweather wept as she climbed the bleachers with her son's framed jersey in hand.
“Dear God, please help me,” Angela Merriweather said once she made it to her seat. “Jesus, please.”
With the somber pre-game tribute over, the Ironmen basketball team set out to do what Jalen would have wanted them to do: win the playoff game against Dadeville High School.
Underneath the banners decorated with Jalen’s number and name, the Holt fans stood and cheered loudly at every basket, every steal, every block and every free throw. The celebration even extended to the players on the floor.
“Tonight was about keeping a promise to my brother,” Holt player Joshua Strozier said. “Before he passed away we set a long-term goal to make it to (the) state (playoffs). I wanted to make sure I did whatever it took to get him one-step closer.”
When the final horn sounded, the Holt student section flooded the court in celebration of the 65-47 victory. Watkins quickly made a trip to the Holt locker room, grabbing a pair of scissors so his his team could cut down the net.
One-by-one, each of the players and coaches took turns climbing the ladder on the baseline and cutting down a small piece of the net. When the entire team had gotten a fragment, Watkins turned to Angela Merriweather and handed her the scissors. She was in charge of celebrating for her son.
Angela Merriweather chopped the remainder of the net away from the rim, grabbing the twine to loud cheers from the Holt students.
For perhaps the first time all night, Angela Merriweather smiled.