LA CENTER — Cody Sherrell’s silver Kobe Bryant shoes and blue No. 24 jersey — the same number Bryant wears for the Los Angeles Lakers — were placed on La Center Middle School’s bench prior to its season opener against Hockinson Middle School Thursday night.
State rules mandate middle school basketball teams carry 12 players, but La Center’s eighth grade team will have an extra member this season, principal David Cooke told a capacity crowd prior to tip-off.
“Cody will be on our bench all season,” Cooke said, “and we will do our best on the court and in the classroom to honor him.”
Around 500 students, parents and staff packed La Center Middle School’s gym to witness a ceremony honoring the 14-year-old boy who died Jan. 9, six days after collapsing during the basketball team’s first practice of the season.
This was the night Cody had dreamt about — his first school basketball game, the principal added.
In playing Thursday’s game, La Center Middle celebrated Cody’s dream and also raised money to help his family with hospital bills. Blue bracelets with his name on them were sold for $4 and attendees also had the option of donating into blue and white jugs. The school did not charge admission for entrance.
Cooke and Cody’s father, Brandon Sherrell, spoke during a brief pre-game ceremony that touched upon the boy’s love of family, Boy Scouts and basketball. His Boy Scout troop — Troop 484 — presented his parents with an American flag and his coaches presented them a basketball autographed by Bryant, which a La Center resident donated.
The middle school’s choir performed The National Anthem. Players for both teams stood on the court in unison during the ceremony.
Following Cooke’s speech, Cody’s father thanked the community for its support. His wife, Renee, and daughter, Rachel, a sixth-grader at La Center Middle School, sat in the audience’s second row.
“It’s just more than we could ever imagine that one boy could mean so much to the community,” Cody’s father told the audience. He wore a black hooded sweatshirt with his son’s name and jersey number on it.
Cody would have been “overwhelmed” by the attention, his father said. On the wall behind him, a poster declared this “Cody’s Court.”
“He would want to crawl up somewhere and hide,” the father said of the hoopla, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Cody was a shy kid, according to those who knew him, but he had begun to “take risks,” according to Cooke.
La Center Middle School’s teachers named Cody Student of the Month in October. He had come out of his shell in many ways this year, Cooke said, explaining how Cody led his peers in math class, delivered “an Academy Award-worthy performance as a grumpy jack in the box” in a school play and achieved his goal of playing basketball for the school.
“He had worked out his own path to be successful and he was following it to a tee,” Cooke told the audience.
This all culminated with the Jan. 3 basketball practice. Cody performed well that day, according to coaches.
Everything changed near practice’s end when he collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest. Coach Tom Rice and a parent, Greg Morgan, performed CPR on him until paramedics arrived. Cody received treatment at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Portland for six days before his death.
The La Center Middle School team dedicated its season and court to his memory, officials said.
On Thursday night, the team opened its season with a 70-54 victory over Hockinson Middle.
“I know they were inspired by Cody tonight,” Rice said via phone.
Rice described himself as “pretty emotional” before tip-off. He was one of the people who laid Cody’s jersey on the team’s bench. The ceremony and the game that followed were “therapeutic for all of us,” Rice said.
Rochelle Stinson, whose daughter was a classmate of Cody’s, sold bracelets near the gym entrance Thursday, instead of taking tickets as she generally does. She noted the turnout was “huge” compared to the normal game.
“This seems like the type of thing you hear about in other places,” she said of Cody’s death. “When it happens here we want to help and support (the family).”
Cody’s classmates also showed their support. They wore black hooded sweatshirts with his name and jersey number featured on them and also wrote messages to him on posterboard in the gym’s hallway.
“When your dad started talking, I just (started) to cry …” wrote seventh-grader Esmik Solorio, adding she also cried when she hugged Cody’s parents. “We all really do love you on the inside,” she added.
Solorio’s classmate, Angel Castro, also shared memories.
“You were my best friend and it’s hard for anyone to lose a friend,” Castro wrote. “I know your parents are upset, but I hope (you’re) in a better place.”
Cody’s funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Ridgefield Nazarene Church, 747 Pioneer St.