Kelly Jones Hughes watches her son’s casket enter the hearse during a funeral service at the Raymond D. Evans Memorial Field in Wilkes-Barre Wednesday afternoon.JOHN WILKIN/THE TIMES LEADER
Friends and relatives pay their respects at the Raymond D. Evans Memorial Field in Wilkes-Barre Wednesday afternoon during a funeral service for Robbie Jones, a Coughlin High School football player who died in an accidental drowning.S. JOHN WILKIN PHOTOS/THE TIMES LEADER
Shawn Jones, far, left, brother of Robbie Jones, and their father, Robert Jones Hughes, white T-shirt, share a prayer with Coughlin High School football players Wednesday.
WILKES-BARRE – Robbie Jones’ casket was brought to the waiting bier under a tent at the football field where his footprints are indelibly marked.
Three of Jones’ Coughlin High School football teammates, his two brothers and a friend carried the wooden casket to its resting place as family and friends – more than 300 – sat in folding chairs wiping tears and clutching hands.
Playing in the background was a recording of Rod Stewart singing “Forever Young.”
The 16-year-old high school junior drowned Saturday while swimming with friends in Mountain Lake in Bear Creek Township.
His funeral service was held at his “home away from home” – the Raymond D. Evans Memorial Football Field in Parsons, where he played for the Wilkes-Barre Bears junior football team. Jones lived in the city’s North End with his parents, Robert and Kelly Jones Hughes and his brothers, David and Shawn.
Perhaps the day’s emotions were best summed up by Jones’ aunt, Sherry Joyce.
“It’s hard,” she said.
Coughlin football players wore their numbered jerseys and sat with their head coach, Ciro Cinti, as they listened to the emotional tributes from family members and friends.
“These kids have been through a lot,” Cinti said. “Now we start the healing process.”
Cinti said his Crusaders would be back on the practice field that afternoon to get ready for Saturday’s game against Dallas.
“This is kind of closure for us,” he said. “We’ll go on from here and Robbie will always be a part of our team.”
One of Jones’ best friends, classmate and teammate Joel Wallen, 15, was killed May 4 after being struck by a vehicle near the Wilkes-Barre exit of the Cross Valley Expressway. Robbie was a pallbearer at Wallen’s funeral.
Another aunt, Gloria Williams, told the football players to go out and “kick the daylights out of Dallas.”
She said, “I know this is difficult, but you will all be stronger together.”
Around the casket were flowers and pictures and tributes to Jones. People hugged and cried and shared stories about a young man who his Aunt Jackie Beaver said “was so young, he really didn’t have a life yet.”
Beaver said her family is large and they will support each other.
“We will hold this family together; we will get through this,” she said.
David Jones fought tears as he tried to talk about his brother. Then his brother, Shawn, came over and put his arm around David’s shoulder to help him find the composure to deliver his message.
“I want to thank everyone for your support,” David said. “You guys on the football team, you are all my little brothers now. Robbie loved each and every one of you. On behalf of Robbie, I want to say thank you all.”
Williams talked about Robbie’s hair. She said it was always in Robbie’s eyes.
“He told me ‘my hair is me,’” she said. “Then recently he got his hair cut and I asked him why. He said, ‘because I’m mature now.’”
Her comments brought laughter from the audience – a welcome relief from days of continuous sobbing and sadness.
Lynn Evans, who ran the Wilkes-Barre Bears organization for years, said her family and Robbie’s family are intertwined forever. She talked about the kid that often visited her house and ate fruit roll-ups and barbeque chicken and rode her school bus.
“The boys liked to sit in the back of the bus,” she said. “And they would whistle at the girls walking on the King’s College campus.”
Evans said she would make boys who whistled and yelled at the girls sit up front next to her.
“I think Robbie was king of the front seat,” Evans said.
She said Robbie would never be far away.
“Once a Bear, always a Bear,” she said.
Quoting scripture, the Rev. Daniel Elick of the New Life Community Church in Mountain Top, said, “All men die, but not all men live – Robbie lived.”
After the service, the family stood and greeted everyone near the casket that was draped in a Washington Redskins blanket and his Coughlin football jersey. The silence was deafening as the long line of mourners made their way to pay their last respects.
“This is where this service needed to be,” Williams said. “This was his home; his passion was football.”
More than 1,200 people signed the register books at services on Tuesday and Wednesday.
As the casket was placed in the hearse, the Coughlin players and students joined together and sang the school’s alma mater.
A remembrance card with Jones’ picture and dates of birth and death were handed out.
Robert Anthony Jones, April 25, 1994 – Aug. 28, 2010. It included part of a poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye:
“Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond’s glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die.”
A memorial fund has also been set up in Robbie’s name. Contributions may be made to the Robbie Jones Memorial Fund, c/o PNC Bank, 960 Schechter Drive, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702. Condolences may be left at www.eblakecollins.com or on the R.I.P. Robbie Jones Facebook page.