BUFORD — As friends come together today for a funeral to honor the life of a local athlete, the young man’s family said they’ve learned the value of a close-knit community in times of tragedy.
“Buford is such a supportive place,” said Trent Bagley, cousin of the late Adam Smith, a 16-year-old junior at Buford High School who collapsed last week during a preseason basketball workout and died in the hospital Sunday night.
As he lay unconscious in intensive care at Northside Hospital — Forsyth, Smith was not alone. Far from it, Bagley said.
“It was unbelievable the number of kids and teachers and administrators and community members that came to the hospital to spend time with the family,” Bagley said. “It’s hard to believe a 16-year-old has touched as many lives as he has, but seeing that massive crowd at the hospital was a testament to the fact.”
Bagley said the group of friends and family remained at the hospital until Sunday night, when Smith’s brother, Chandler, 21, arrived from his Army post in Germany.
“They were able to send Chandler back in time to see his brother before what happened ... happened,” Bagley said. “I don’t think Chandler knew that it was going to be like this when he got off the plane. Those two were close, very close. Good buddies.”
Bagley said it will likely remain a mystery as to why their family member died.
“We may never know,” he said. “There’s speculation that Adam had an arrhythmia that caused cardiac arrest, but they don’t know for sure.”
He added that, in the past, Smith had been physically tested after “instances last year where he had passed out while exercising during track activities. They had tested him for a heart condition, but he was medically cleared to continue to play sports, because they couldn’t find anything.”
Thursday’s emergency, Bagley surmised, “was a freak incident.”
Ted Bailey, chief forensic investigator with the Gwinnett Medical Examiners Office, said that because Smith “died of natural causes in the intensive care unit, (the office) did not perform an autopsy.”
Principal Banks Bitterman, who spent much of the weekend at the hospital with the family, recounted Thursday’s events.
“Adam was running during a pre-season cardio work, when he walked up and told one of the teachers there, ‘I’m not feeling good.’ That’s when he went down on his knee and went out, immediately,” Bitterman said.
He added that a teacher there “went into action. She started working, sending kids to go get help from others around the school, who called 911.”
Bitterman said two teachers “tried CPR immediately...and the EMTs were there in about eight minutes.”
Following Thursday’s incident, Buford High School Junior and fellow basketball player Trevor Shipes was also there for several days at the bedside of one of his best friends.
“I would have taken a bullet for that kid any day,” said Shipes, 16. “He was my point guard since seventh grade.”
Added Shipes: “In my opinion, he was as close to perfect as any 16-year-old can get. He was there for me anytime I needed a friend. I don’t think any kid had a stronger faith than Adam did.”
Stephen Fountain, a youth pastor at First Baptist Church of Buford, said the young man was indeed a devoted Christian.
“He was a huge presence in our student ministry,” Fountain said. “He loved everybody, from the cool kids to the disenfranchised. He just liked people. He was a best friend to all.”
Another of Smith’s friends, Jordan Deep, 15, said the young man “had the characteristics of an angel. He was the most perfect person I ever met. I never met anyone as kind as Adam.”
Smith’s kindness, Bitterman said, extended beyond his time on this earth. “He was an organ donor,” he said. “They said that because of his generosity, they will be able to help 15 people. ... That’s a big testament to who this young man was.”
A visitation was held Tuesday at Hamilton Mill Memorial Gardens. A Celebration of Life is scheduled for 4 p.m. today at First Baptist Church Buford.
During 2012, the high school has seen more than its share of tragedy. In January, 30-year-old assistant football coach Ryan Daniel died at the school during basketball drills.
The popular teacher was playing a pick-up basketball game in the gym before school when he collapsed. A statement from Buford City Schools superintendent Geye Hamby confirmed that Daniel had passed away from a heart attack.