11/15/2013 1:46:00 PM Hundreds honor fallen Hopi High football player at Nov. 13 memorial Charles Youvella remembered for courageous spirit
Hopi High football coach Steve Saban and the Hopi football team stand on stage at a Nov. 13 to honor Hopi High football player Charles Youvella who died after sustaining a head injury during a playoff game last weekend. Photo/Stan Bindell
Charles Youvella's father Wallace Youvella Jr. gives an emotional speech saying his son Charles could not have been a better son or brother. Photo/stan Bindell
Stan Bindell The Observer
Dubbed the Tewa Warrior, Charles Youvella was known for not giving up and for helping others.
Whether it was the football field or the basketball court, Youvella never gave up. He was known for helping others whether it was chopping wood or participating in his cultural and religious activities. He had a courageous spirit despite his 5-foot 5-inch stature.
Those are some of the testimonies speakers gave during Youvella's memorial Nov. 13 in the auditorium at Hopi Jr./Sr. High School. The auditorium was packed with more than 800 attendees and others waiting outside with hopes of getting in.
Family, friends, dignitaries, teachers, coaches, students and those from other schools were in the audience for the memorial, which was more a celebration of Youvella's life than his death.
Youvella, a 17-year-old senior, died Nov. 11 from brain injuries suffered during Hopi high's state playoff football game Nov. 9. Youvella scored the Bruins only touchdown that day. The score came on a razzle dazzle play when quarterback Matthew Honyaktewa fired a pass to Blake Sekaquaptewa who lateraled the ball to Youvella who then darted for the score and jumped into the end zone.
Wallace Youvella Jr., Charles' dad and athletic director at Hopi Jr./Sr. High School, spoke about his son during the memorial saying he couldn't have had a better son and Charles couldn't have been a better brother to his brothers and sisters.
Wallace, also an official with the Arizona Interscholastic Association, said the support from throughout the state, the nation and the world has been overwhelming. Channels 3, 10, 12 and 15 all covered the news as well as the Arizona Republic. CNN, ESPN, the New York Times and the London Times, among many others, also picked up the story.
The injury came on the heels of Hopi High's best football season. The Bruins finished the regular season with a 9-1 record before drawing Arizona Lutheran, the number one team in the state, in the state playoffs. Arizona Lutheran officials were at the hospital after Youvella was injured and sent a condolence card after his passing.
Youvella's father received calls of support from Tuba City, Greyhills, Alchesay, Leupp Schools Inc., Red Mesa, Many Farms, Ganado, Winslow, Chinle and St. Johns as well as the Hopi elementary schools.
He said the actions of Arizona Lutheran and the support from everybody made the situation a lot easier to deal with. He noted that this happened after the Hopi High boys and girls cross country teams had won their state championships earlier in the day.
"I was proud of them and we were all on such a high before this happened," Wallace said. "I was proud of each and every one of them (the cross country runners and football players). Each one of them is like my own."
Before the football game many people said Arizona Lutheran would stop Hopi from scoring at all but Charles told his dad "I guarantee you that we will not get shutout."
Youvella's father said he was proud of his son and the team for scoring.
Youvella was 5-5, but defended a 6-5 player. Also, Youvella had words with another player from Arizona Lutheran who was 6-2.
Dixon Silas, Hopi bus driver, served as water boy during the game. When Youvella came to the sideline after having words with the 6-2 player, Silas told Youvella, "Why don't you pick on somebody your own size."
"He is my size," Youvella responded.
Youvella said his son understood that every time he put on the uniform he was not just representing himself, but his team, his school and his nation.
He recounted how Arizona Cardinals all-star Larry Fitzgerald put up words of support on his Facebook page. Youvella thanked Patrick Peterson, Michael Bidwell and the Arizona Cardinals for reaching out to show support. He thanked St. Josephs Hospital for doing all they could and added that the Hopi High administration couldn't have handled it better. He praised the Hopi High teachers and students for their support.
"We'll get through this together," Youvella said. "Charles wouldn't want us to stop. Support your children in all they do, not just athletics, but academics."
Youvella said a scholarship fund will be started in his son's name for one male and one female student each year.
Charles liked rap music and was interested in becoming either a rap artist or music producer and often worked on his poetry.
"He loved his fellow football players like brothers. We thank the coaches for their support and guidance," Youvella said. "Once a Bruin always a Bruin. That's Charles."
Zachary Youvella, Charles' brother, spoke briefly toward the end of the memorial. He said Charles was good with words. He said his brother would face challenges that others would not dare face.
Ivan Sidney, an uncle to Charles, said life is too short and people should tell their loved ones every day that they love them.
"This is an awakening for the nation to think about their children," he said.
Sidney noted that the media recognized that the players live in two worlds - one of tradition and one of progress.
Eddie Sidney, another uncle, said Channel 10 put the focus on young football players getting injured.
"I hope this causes more awareness for safety so we can have less of this occurring," he said.
Lacking in size but full of courage
Hopi High football coach Steve Saban said what Youvella lacked in size he made up for with courage.
"Pound for pound he was the toughest kid I've ever known," he said. "He ran the power play to perfection. He never gave less than 100 percent. I was extremely proud to have been his coach."
Saban said Youvella was proof that it's not the years in life, but the life in the years.
"He was a great kid," he said.
Spirit of Nahongvita
Hopi Police Chief Jamie Kootswatewa, a graduate of Hopi High School, said students can succeed regardless of the path they choose. He said sometimes people cope by using humor.
"It's not out of disrespect. We all mourn in our own special way," he said.
Kootswatewa said whether someone is a tough policeman, fireman or football player they still have heart. He said Charles had honor, pride, teamwork, strength and integrity, something everybody should have whether they are a policeman, a football player or a student at Hopi High. He said everybody can cry because it relieves the body.
Kootswatewa urged everyone to have the spirit of Nahongvita (stay strong) and not giving up.
Pro footballers show support
Darryl Gooden, former linebacker with the Arizona Rattlers, said when a football player puts on a uniform it doesn't matter what level they are, what their race or tribe is, they are all part of the same fraternity.
"You are family when you put on that gear," he said. "I give parents props for bringing them up and giving them the opportunity to play football. Football is a tough sport."
Gooden told everyone to not give up and to take care of themselves.
"Be accountable to each other. Listen to your coaches, parents and elders. Charles will be remembered in my heart," he said.
Gooden said his friend Mark McMillian has the spirit of Youvella. McMillian is only 5-feet 8-inches, small by professional football standards, but spent eight years in the NFL.
McMillian, who spent most of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs, defended against some of the toughest players in the game including Jerry Rice.
"You can't measure a man or woman's heart from the outside," he said.
McMillian was cut from his Pop Warner team and only played one year of high school football because many considered him too small. He also wore No. 22, the same number as Youvella.
"When I heard that was his number, I pictured myself," he said. "I lost a lot of teammates to the injuries of the violence of football."
McMillian said the amount of people attending showed the effect Youvella had on the community.
He said for Youvella there is no more pain.
"There is joy and when I cross over I want to see number 22," McMillian said.
McMillian talked about males being too macho. He said males should be able to tell other males that they love them and give each other a hug.
On behalf of the Kansas City Chiefs, McMillian gave Wallace Youvella Jr. a football signed by the entire team.
Arizona State Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai thanked all who helped with Youvella's upbringing and urged everyone to celebrate his life through compassion, kindness and love.
The best of Hopi High
Hopi High Principal Glenn Gilman thanked the community for coming together to celebrate Youvella's life and accomplishments.
"I've known him since he was two years old," Gilman said. "I consider him my own. He was quiet, but assertive, hard working. He is the spirit of Hopi High School whether it's football, athletics or student achievements. He was the best of what we have here. Charles, we love you."
Hopi Junior High Principal Albert Sinquah, speaking on behalf of the kikmongwis, said "Life is given and taken beyond our control and can be taken at any time."
Sinquah said the Hopi believe when someone leaves this world they go on to the next world.
"Do not forget the happiness," he said. "He will have a safe journey as he enters into that place. Remember to celebrate your lives and respect each other."
The Hopi High Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps posted the colors. Gary Polacca gave the opening prayer. Cheryl Kaye gave opening remarks and put together a brief film of Youvella's football and cultural highlights. Dixon Silas gave the closing prayer.
The students placed memorials throughout the hallways, sent balloons off in Charles' memory and put on a candlelight vigil.
Hopi Jr./Sr. High School had extra counselors on duty to help the students deal with grief. Anyone needing counseling can telephone any time including nights and weekends at (877) 387-2652 or during working hours at 737-6300.
A funeral took place Nov. 15 at the Latter Day Saints Church in Polacca.
The Hopi Jr./Sr. High School business office is accepting donations for the Youvella family.