Tragedy struck North Carolina just before the Memorial Day holiday weekend when a state champion high school quarterback was discovered drowned just off the coastline.
As reported by North Carolina CBS affiliate WNCT and the Jacksonville Daily News, Jacksonville (N.C.) Southwest Onslow High senior quarterback Shak Pershey was found around 2 a.m. Friday morning after he had disappeared while swimming the prior evening. Pershey reportedly ventured into the water at North Topsail Beach with a group of friends around 7 p.m. and disappeared.
While police and emergency responders launched a rapid response search, they were unsuccessful and suspended the efforts due to rough water after just two hours. A number of hours later Pershey’s body was discovered when the crew began scouring the area again.
The teen’s tragic death came less than two weeks before he would have graduated from Southwest Onslow High as one of his class’ most celebrated figures. During his senior season, Pershey led Southwest Onslow to a North Carolina High School Activities Association Class 1-AA football crown, a campaign that was capped by a 44-34 victory against Swain County (N.C.) High in December.
En route to that title, Pershey was nearly unstoppable under center. As noted by the Daily News, the senior passed for 1,149 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 929 yards and 18 touchdowns. He was a three-way starter, and he intercepted five passes and recorded 73 tackles as a defensive back and returned three kicks for a touchdown.
While it is impossible for a school or small, tight community like Jacksonville to fully prepare for a tragedy of these proportions, Southwest High principal Tim Foster told reporters at the North Topsail scene early Friday that the school had a crisis plan in place and would have a number of grief counselors on site Friday for students who needed help.
Nevertheless, Foster said that the atmosphere at the school on Friday was “somber,” befitting the loss of a much loved classmate.
“[Pershey was a] fine young man and had accomplished so much,” area representative and Reverend Phil Shepherd told the Daily News. “It's times like this that we put our faith and trust in God."