On the field where Ashari Hughes played her final flag football game less than a week ago, hundreds gathered Wednesday night to celebrate her life.
For the third consecutive night, the 16-year-old Desert Oasis High School sophomore was honored — this time with a candlelight vigil and jersey retirement ceremony.
The ceremony began around 7:15 p.m. after the varsity flag football team’s victory against Canyon Springs High School.
Hughes died after collapsing Thursday night following a game against Valley High School. Her death was ruled natural by the Clark County coroner’s office from a congenital heart condition.
Hughes had a medical issue but was cleared by doctors to play flag football, according to her family.
Desert Oasis administrators spoke during the ceremony, and the school’s choir sang “See You Again” as candlelight was passed among everyone on the field. Hughes’ parents spoke to the crowd, thanking them for the support.
“Please keep Ashari’s memory alive,” her mother, Twayne Hughes, said to the crowd. “Please make positive decisions every day as she did and always put the number seven up high and do it for Shari.”
Flag football coach Todd Thomson announced that no football player will ever again wear No. 7 at Desert Oasis.
“Having Ashari be part of our family was a pleasure,” said Devon Patmon, one of the team’s captains. “She had such a contagious smile. She was determined, passionate, optimistic and had an outgoing personality.”
Through tears, Patmon dedicated “every drive, every play, every game and every win,” to Hughes.
During the game, students, parents and flag football players from other schools walked through a memorial set up by the entrance to the stadium that included photos of Hughes, candles in the shape of a heart and a large poster board with the number 7 on it and the hashtag #DoIt4Shari.
The board filled with more and more messages as the game went on.
Rancho High School sophomore Kymani Overton stood by herself in front of the memorial during the first half. Overton, who was wearing her flag football jersey, said she met Hughes through flag football friends. At first, Overton didn’t believe that Hughes had died, but it started to sink in after seeing all the community events held for her friend.
“It just kind of hit me like she’s actually gone and it hit hard at first,” Overton said. “I spent like a couple days crying at school.”
She described Hughes as a beautiful and sweet person.
“I’m playing flag for her now,” Overton said.
At a table by the scoreboard, Kimberley Brock and other volunteers handed out candles to people who walked onto the field. Brock’s daughter is a senior at Desert Oasis.
“It’s really nice to see the community all coming together just to be part of this,” she said.
A balloon release Tuesday night followed a candlelight vigil at Centennial High School on Monday night.
An online fundraiser had raised more than $59,000 as Wednesday night.
Contact David Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @davidwilson_RJ on Twitter.