Ohio school remembers fallen student

Updated: April 9, 2010, 9:25 PM ET
Associated Press

CINCINNATI -- The president of a Cincinnati high school mourning the death of a Notre Dame football recruit who fell from a hotel balcony called the teenager a "gentle giant" and praised his leadership abilities on Friday during a visitation for him.

Hundreds of mourners waited in line at the St. Xavier High School's chapel for hours to pay their respects to Matt James, a 6-foot-8, 290-pound offensive lineman who fell over a fifth-floor railing a week ago while on spring break in Panama City Beach, Fla., school personnel said.

"He really was a gentle giant," said the school's president, the Rev. Tim Howe, as he struggled to keep his emotions under control. "He always had a kind word."

Howe stepped outside the visitation for James, a 17-year-old senior who was scheduled to enroll at Notre Dame in June, to speak with reporters who weren't permitted on school grounds and had gathered across the street. He praised James' qualities of leadership and faith, his voice breaking at times as he talked of the teen and the school community's grief.

He said the school was prepared to help students when they returned from spring break, starting with a Mass on Monday morning. He said grief counselors would be on hand and the football and basketball teams had gathered a couple of times to tell stories and say what they wanted to say.

Howe said he hoped to extend the gatherings to the full student body next week.

"Their grief will be real and present when they return and in the days ahead," he said.

James was the second St. Xavier student to die this school year, after junior wrestler Kevin Le was struck by a car and killed in September, Howe said.

"Sad to say, but it's getting so we can kind of know what to do in this situation," he said.

James was drunk April 2 when he leaned over the balcony railing and fell, police said.

An autopsy showed James died of brain injuries. A medical examiner's office in Florida has said it will take up to three months to get toxicology tests completed showing James' blood-alcohol content.

James was in Panama City Beach with six adults and 40 fellow students from the high school. His high school coaches, teammates and teachers say he should be remembered for his hard work, leadership and loyalty, not the way he died.

Students held an impromptu vigil at the football field next to the school the night of his death, and his former football and basketball teammates held a private prayer service led by the school's chaplain the following day.

At the visitation on Friday, one of James' coaches read from a journal the player kept and referred to him as a superhero, school spokesman Mark Motz said.

James' funeral was scheduled for Saturday at St. Xavier Church in downtown Cincinnati.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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