MANATEE -- James "Tripp" Battle was a big man with a big heart who worked hard to serve as a role model to all around him, especially those he worked with on the football team at Bayshore High School, according to those who knew him.
One of those student athletes, Ryan Davis, received a special scholarship Wednesday in honor of Battle, who was killed in December.
"It couldn't be more of an honor," said Davis, an 18-year-old senior and the first recipient of the James "Tripp" Battle Memorial Scholarship given by Palmetto-based law firm Kallins, Little, Delgado, during a scholarship dinner and ceremony Wednesday at IMG Academy Golf Club. The $1,000 scholarship will be given to a Bayshore High School senior each year.
Investigators say Battle, a pastor at Bayshore Baptist Church, was the last of three victims killed Dec. 4 by Andres "Andy" Avalos. Also killed were Avalos' wife, Amber Avalos, and their neighbor, Denise Potter.
The law firm established the scholarship in Battle's memory a month later. Battle graduated from Bayshore in 2001 and served as chaplain for the football team.
Since 2006, the firm has given away more than $148,000 in scholarships to local students. Previously, individual lawyers gave money to
different organizations or other groups to help provide student scholarships. Instead of going directly to students, however, the money went to the registrar office at different schools, said Jimmy Delgado, a partner with the firm.
"We said: 'Why don't we start doing our own event?'" he said. "It's not a lot but it's something."
The event has grown to include a reception, dinner and keynote speaker. Bob Davis, a Bradenton resident and member of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame, was keynote speaker. He encouraged students to jump on every opportunity.
The scholarship check now goes directly to students and it's up to their discretion how to use the money whether for books, gas money or furniture.
Named scholarships were also given out in honor of Ed Kallins, father of law firm partner Scott Kallins and local physician Marc Kallins, and Andrea Peters, a former law firm employee who died of complications related to arthritis.
Talk of starting the scholarship in Battle's honor began the night after he died when Delgado sent a message expressing condolences to Melton Little, another partner at the firm. Little and Battle worked together with the Bayshore High School team.
On Wednesday, Little talked about how he had seen the change in culture on the football team with Battle's presence, starting in 2014.
"He would have given a lot more back over the years," Delgado said.
Since Battle's death, the family has leaned on each other for support, said Joy Battle, his wife. She attended the ceremony with his parents, Rhonda and Jimmy; his sister, Ashley; and Ashley's fiancé, Erik Bobo.
"He had such a passion for the football players," Joy said. "It became such a delight for him."
Prior to Wednesday, Joy had not met Davis, but her husband spoke of him highly, she said. Davis will attend University of South Florida, Sarasota-Manatee, in the fall to study biology and said he hopes to transfer to the main campus of USF in Tampa and ultimately become a veterinarian. He said he plans to use the money for books.
Deborah and Guy Bowling, Davis' aunt and uncle, called the scholarship a blessing as they weren't prepared to assist Davis in his college expenses.
"I'm very proud of him, he's worked very hard," Deborah said. "It means a lot."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.