When athletes from St. Joseph’s Prep or Archbishop Wood or Roman Catholic arrive on the La Salle College High School campus in team regalia, they usually come with the intention of competing in the sports arena.
On Friday, they were there to show solidarity and support.
“We’re rivals but at the end of the day, we all come from the same thing,” said Archbishop Wood senior linebacker Shane Collier, who wore his black-and-gold, No. 4 football jersey to funeral services for La Salle senior Isaiah Turner.
Hundreds of people lined up for the viewing and religious service for Turner, a popular 17-year-old who died Sept. 4 after football practice on an adjacent field at La Salle’s campus in Wyndmoor, Montgomery County.
The presence of Collier and several Archbishop Wood students in team jerseys, as well as St. Joseph’s Prep football players in gray warmup jackets and Roman Catholic athletes in white-and-purple uniform tops, was one of more poignant aspects of the gathering beneath a white tent on the back of the Explorers' baseball field.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Turner, a member of both the football and basketball teams who was regarded by many in the La Salle community as a “gentle giant,” collapsed after complaining of a pain in a leg near the end of the team workout.
The cause of death is under investigation, according to a spokesman for the Philadelphia medical examiner’s office.
Brother James Butler, La Salle’s president, began Friday’s religious service by noting that those in attendance had “lost a wonderful person, student, teammate and friend” and challenged his listeners to remember Turner for his “extraordinary spirit and goodness.”
The service included remembrances of Turner by family members, including his grandfather, Moses Turner, who said his grandson’s goal was to feed the hungry.
“He couldn’t understand why people were starving,” Moses Turner said. "He told me, ‘Baba, I’m going to find a way to feed everybody.’
"I said, ‘That’s a tall order.’
“He told me, ‘Not that tall.’ ”
The service included a moving medley of songs by Maryta Powell, a family friend. She also sang an uplifting closing song before Turner’s casket was carried to a gray hearse stationed at the back of the tent by pallbearers such as football teammates Ryan Wills, Bobby Ballay, and Matthew Bowes, and basketball teammate Caleb Bryant.
“To see him in the casket, it doesn’t feel real,” said Bryant, a sophomore. "He was like a big brother to me.
“He was someone you would want your children to be like when they get older.”
Turner was a reserve center for the La Salle basketball team. In football, he had been a starting defensive tackle as a junior but was switching to offensive guard this season.
Turner, who lived in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, was a strong student who also played the trumpet in the La Salle band. He was studying Chinese as a subject for the fourth year at the start of this school year.
La Salle’s football players will wear decals on their helmets this season. One bears Turner’s jersey number, 74. The other bears Chinese symbols that signify his initials.
“His brilliance will never die,” Moses Turner said of his grandson.
Beside Turner’s casket under the tent, his No. 74 football jersey and his No. 53 basketball jersey hung beside a large cross draped with a white cloth. Nearby, gentling fluttering in the breeze, hung a graphic rug with an image of Turner, smiling with both thumbs up, in a No. 34 jersey from his days with the Philly Hurricanes AAU basketball program.
Several of Turner’s former AAU teammates were in attendance in white T-shirts with the numeral “34” and “Isaiah” on the back.
The show of support from athletic rivals from St. Joseph’s Prep, Archbishop Wood, and Roman Catholic was symbolic of the strong bond between the members of the Philadelphia Catholic League, according to St. Joseph’s Prep coach Tim Roken.
On Monday, St. Joseph’s Prep had hosted a Mass in Turner’s honor at the school at 17th and Girard avenues in North Philadelphia, with La Salle coach John Steinmetz as well as the Explorers' captains in attendance.
“Life is bigger than the game,” Roken said. "A lot has been spoken about Isaiah and how he was so humble and a gentle giant and some amazing things.
“Coach [Steinmetz] said he would whisper to guys out of the side of his mouth, and I said, ‘Hey, now he’s on your shoulder, now he’s with you guys forever.’ ”