As the Dalton High School boys soccer team celebrated a state soccer championship on a field in Carrollton last month, Luis Cervantes laid in a Chattanooga hospital bed clinging to life.
The next day, team members brought their coveted championship trophy to Cervantes in his hospital room so he could share in the festivities — even though he wasn’t on the team. Many of the players were friends with Cervantes, playing soccer with him in Christian and recreational leagues.
Cervantes passed away Tuesday at Erlanger Medical Center from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident May 9. He was 18. At the time of the accident, he was a senior at Dalton High School.
The accident happened at about 10 p.m. as Cervantes was returning home from work at Gondolier Pizza. A family friend previously said Cervantes was driving on Waugh Street when something in the road apparently distracted him or caused him to swerve, and he lost control of his motorcycle. The teenager suffered lung damage, several broken bones and other injuries after crashing into a tree.
Dalton’s soccer team dedicated their season to him as he struggled to hold on to life. The accident happened between the second round and the quarterfinals of the Class 4A state tournament. The team began wearing red wristbands with his name on them from that point forward as a sign they were dedicating the season to him. At times, they raised their red wristbands in the air after goals. Red is one of Dalton’s school colors, but it was also the color of Cervantes’ motorcycle.
For team members, the time during the state title run was bittersweet. Some skipped practice before the quarterfinals to visit Cervantes. The same day the players visited Cervantes in his hospital room with the championship trophy, they held a fundraiser car wash to raise money for his family.
“I was really proud of them for that,” said coach Matt Cheaves. “It showed me that they considered the needs of somebody else above themselves.”
Team member Ryan Czyz, who has known Cervantes since second grade, said more fundraisers are likely coming. For now, everyone just needs to pray for his family, he said.
“Mainly the thing that mostly everybody remembers him, even if you just met him, is that he’s going to be 100 percent with you,” Czyz said. “He would never be two-faced about anything, and he also never gave up on anything. He was a hard worker. But he would always be the same guy, whether you just met him or had known him for a thousand years.”
That genuineness stood out to Czyz, who said he was “one of the only white people” in the San Jose Soccer League where the two played. Cervantes didn’t care, Czyz said. He was just nice.
Heriberto Cervantes, one of Luis Cervantes’ brothers, spoke on behalf of the family, saying their loved one wanted to be a mechanic after he graduated.
“He was a really good kid. He was always happy,” Heriberto Cervantes said. “He would go to school, study and work and wouldn’t do any bad things, drugs or drinking.”
Losing someone so young is always tough, said Cheaves, who also teaches at the school.
“You want to be there to comfort the other students and the family,” Cheaves said. “I guess for me, it comes down to what you believe, and I believe that Luis is in a better place now — a better place than we are.”
The Mass of Christian Burial will be Friday at noon at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Viewing and visitation is today from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Willis Funeral Home Inc. of Dalton. Burial will be in West Hill Cemetery.
Sports Editor Marty Kirkland contributed to this story.