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Memorials to the dead

EAST MANATEE — A teacher’s calculator and note pad rest atop it.

So does a football, crosses, skulls and marigolds. They all surround a photo of late football coach Doug Garrity.

Braden River High School seniors Murad Cofer, 18, and Tevin Bryant, 17, teamed up to create the memorial altar after a Spanish class assignment aimed at helping students understand the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, or “Day of the Dead.”

The memorial, which garnered fifth place in competition among Spanish 2 students who created ofrendas, or altars, in memory to those who have died, is on display in Village of the Arts studio Still Life in G along with four other top place winners.

Garrity, who also taught weightlifting, died in a car crash this spring on Interstate 275 after former head football coach Josh Hunter reportedly lost control of his pickup while driving drunk, Florida Highway Patrol troopers say. Hunter was charged with DUI manslaughter.

Spanish teacher Audrey Yates said the Nov. 2 holiday not only helps mend emotional wounds, it helps those living remember loved ones in a positive light.

Cofer, a weightlifter, and Bryant, a starting running back on the football team, considered Garrity their friend.

“When the teacher said we could dedicate it to anybody, he was the first person we thought of,” said Cofer.

“He was so close to us,” Bryant said.

This is the second year students participated in the competition. Spanish 3 students also completed similar art pieces and dedicated them in someone’s memory.

Junior Ashly McCarthy painted a memorial for her mother, who died when she was 8.

“It happened a long time ago so it helped me to remember her in a positive light as opposed to mourning and sadness, which is usually associated with death,” said McCarthy, 17.

David Marshall, an assistant principal at Braden River, called the projects an amazing display of student talent.

“It’s enabled the kids to express their own individuality and also gave them an unique opportunity to deal with something as complex as death,” he said.

Other winners on display at the Still Life in G include Madison Daunt’s first place tribute to Anna Nicole Smith; second place winner Claude Monet memorial by Alba Baceliu and Gabriella Napolitano; third place Judy Garland memorial by Christina Bythrow and Eric Bradford and fourth place Selena memorial by Enriqueta Balandra and Caitlyn Colleran.

Gallery owner Deborah McKeever, who has been in Mexico for the Day of the Dead, was impressed with the realism of the students’ memorials.

“If you go into businesses (in Mexico), they have the altars to commemorate their ancestors or relatives complete with marigolds on them,” said McKeever, who is on the school’s advisory board for the Arts and Communication Academy. “The students got that right. They really did a great job.”

Cofer still feels a void when he walks through the school’s hallways and doesn’t see Garrity.

“Sometimes you wish he was still there, but there is nothing we can do now except what we did to keep his memory alive,” Cofer said.

The memorials will be on display until the end of the month in the Village of the Arts. After that, Bryant wants to display them at the school.