A Georgia teenager who died of cancer last week crossed his school's football field for one last time, carried in a coffin by his heartbroken teammates.
It was part of a touching tribute at Malik Sparkman's funeral on Sunday at Coffee High School in Douglas, Georgia, where the 18-year-old played football until he was diagnosed with a rare kidney cancer last year.
"Malik was an awesome kid," football coach Randy Garrett told TODAY.com. "Big smile, very hard worker. Loved athletics, loved other people. He was one of those people that would kind of brighten up everyone's day when he came along."
Garrett said the idea to have the funeral on the field came from the teen's father, Keith Sparkman.
"When Malik passed on Sunday, I spoke with him at the home and he said, 'I wish he could be on the field one more time. Do you think we could take him on the field again and have his funeral there?'" Garrett said. "And I said absolutely."
Sparkman, who was about to finish his junior year, had been a linebacker for the team.
"He started losing weight and things didn't seem quite right, because like I said he was a hard worker in the weight room, so weight loss was very atypical," Garrett said. "When he was diagnosed, he stopped playing immediately and started treatment."
"I think most of us felt like, if anybody was going to beat this thing, Malik's going to beat this thing," he added. "And throughout most of the year, he believed that, too."
But Sparkman, who suffered from renal medullary carcinoma according to local reports, died on May 17. Hundreds watched as his teammates, in their Trojan uniforms, escorted the teen's body out of the tunnel and onto the field during the funeral on May 24. When a video of Sparkman began to play, the teammates burst into tears, according to the Coffee County Ga. Police Scanner Facebook page, a local blog, which also posted video of the funeral. A service was later held in the school's gym.
"He has united this community in a lot of ways," Garrett said.