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Football field turns into memorial

MANATEE — Coach Doug Garrity normally would be refereeing the girls’ Pirate Puff game Friday night.

But Garrity, who was killed a week ago in a car crash, was there in spirit as hundreds of students turned out for the game and a vigil in his honor.

Many students donned black and wrote the name Garrity on their shirts, paying tribute to the assistant football coach. His funeral service was earlier in the day.

Students and faculty encircled the entire football field under the lights, holding candles.

Four pictures of Garrity were placed at the center of the field depicting him from his desk to the football field where he normally stood Friday night.

“He would help us do anything. He was an official last year. He already signed up this year. If you would have asked him to sweep this track, he would have done it for you,” said Braden River High Principal Jim Pauley.

The annual game was renamed the Doug Garrity Pirate Puff Classic this year in which the senior girls won for the third consecutive year.

A $5 admission was charged and, between community donations, an estimated $7,700 was raised for his family, Pauley said.

The tragedy has been a difficult loss to bear. Garrity, 27, was killed when he was thrown from the backseat of a 2001 Ford truck driven by head football coach Joshua Lee Hunter in a single vehicle crash off of Interstate 75 in Sarasota County.

Garrity was named the MVP of the game. Two footballs with the team signatures and framed pink shirt was presented to his family at the center of the field.

His family smiled as they peered at the enlarged glossy pictures of him at work.

Dehlia Garrity, Garrity’s stepmother, choked back tears as she spoke to the crowd.

“Of course John and I knew Doug as a boy. . . . For the past few days we learned about Doug as a man and you guys have given us that gift. So many people say we’re sorry for your loss, but there’s been no loss — but only gain,” she said. “John and I don’t want you to be sorry. We know you will help us remember him every day.”

Garrity looked at the pictures of her son and out toward the faces of students. Her son never had the chance to have children of his own.

“All of you kids were his sons and daughters . . . Now you’re our grandkids,” she said. “So we are all family. That’s what Doug loved.”

After the presentation to his family, students crowded to the southeastern corner of the field to watch two slideshows of Garrity at school in the weight room and on the field.

A moment of silence was observed. Some students cried and embraced.

Nick Gaines, a senior and football player at Braden River, wore his varsity jersey. He said Garrity looked after students.

“He was just the best. He just put out everything for everybody,” he said. “If someone was down, he would be there to pick them up. . . . He was a father to all of us.”