Posted: 6:12 am Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Pahokee to honor anniversary of Norman Griffith’s death 

By Jason Lieser

Prior to Friday night’s game against Cardinal Newman, Pahokee will hold a pre-game ceremony in remembrance of Norman “Pooh” Griffith. Sunday will mark the one-year anniversary of Griffith’s death.

Norman Griffith, shown here on the last night of his life, remains beloved by the Blue Devils. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

Norman Griffith, shown here on the last night of his life, remains beloved by the Blue Devils. (Allen Eyestone/The Post)

The school will request a moment of silence at Anquan Boldin Stadium before the game and will paint Griffith’s No. 7 on the field. They will also have a balloon release and present his mother, Jackie Griffith, with a bouquet of flowers.

Blue Devils coach Blaze Thompson said he is unsure how his players will react.

“I’m sure some of them will be emotional, but it’s an opportunity to show respect and remembrance,” he said.

Griffith was shot in the head and killed in the early morning hours following Pahokee’s homecoming game last season. He was 18. Since his death, he has become a rallying cry for the Blue Devils, who still shout his name in unison in their huddle.

“I think about him every day,” said senior Raheam Buxton, Griffith’s cousin. “Everything I do from this point forward is dedicated to him.”

Griffith was a star tight end, defensive end and linebacker for Pahokee. He had multiple BCS scholarship offers. Parents, coaches, teammates, friends and police said Griffith was an even better person than he was a player and was not the type to get in trouble.

Here is the Post‘s initial article on Griffith’s death:

Pahokee High football player shot to death
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers

Hours after celebrating their homecoming win over Jupiter, Pahokee High School football players were jarred by early morning phone calls delivering a devastating message.

Norman Griffith, a senior and team captain, had been shot in the head and killed around 1 a.m. Saturday while leaving a dance in Belle Glade.

Players and coaches were shocked. His father, Norman Griffith Sr., was distraught.

“He’s the best thing that has happened to me in my life, and he’s gone,” he said. “I have never felt this bad. Every place on me is hurting right now.”

Griffith, 18, was shot while trying to leave a confrontation with a group that didn’t like that he was wearing Pahokee colors, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said. After Friday’s game, Griffith had joined teammates and some young women at the Bill Bailey Community Center for a dance.

“They got a bad vibe, and they didn’t want to have any part of it,” said Lt. Mike Wallace of the county’s violent crimes task force.

As Griffith tried to drive his Dodge Durango out of the parking lot, a teenager with dreadlocks approached his truck, the sheriff’s office said. A friend of Griffith’s heard the click of the chamber of a semiautomatic gun. Then at least six shots rang out from two guns.

One bullet struck Griffith. The car crashed into a telephone pole, injuring a Pahokee High teammate who was in the passenger seat.

Griffith was flown to Delray Medical Center. His injured teammate was taken to Glades General Hospital. His name was not available.

Wallace said Griffith was a good kid and was “not a blip on our radar,” but he said the shooter likely was involved in a Belle Glade gang.

“There is a large gang in Belle Glade and they pretty much run everything,” he said.

Gangs were responsible for most of the shootings the task force has handled in the Glades area, he added.

Football coach Blaze Thompson heard about the shooting around 1:15 a.m. from one of his players. He called Griffith’s mother, Jackie, but before she reached Delray Medical Center, her son had died.

“By the time we got to Delray, that’s when the detective came out and said he didn’t make it,” she said through tears on her front porch Saturday afternoon, while Griffith’s father sobbed behind her.

“My baby didn’t make it. He didn’t make it.”

Because Griffith had the Durango, his mother had no immediate transportation. After numerous attempts to reach friends and relatives, she began walking to the Bailey Center, 5 miles south of her house in Runyon Village.

Shortly after she left, a friend drove past, picked her up and took her to the crime scene. They went to Glades General first, then to Delray Medical Center.

Thompson spent most of the night at Delray Medical and did not get to bed until 7 a.m.

His face showed the effects of a traumatic night as he sat and rubbed his face at his kitchen table later that morning.

“I just knew he was going to be all right,” Thompson said. “There’s always something going on, but never like this. You can’t imagine that a boy would get killed.”

Former team members Janoris Jenkins, Jatavious Miller, Anthony Sheppard and Antavious Wilson, all of whom now play college ball, called Thompson early Saturday to find out the latest news before that day’s games.

Griffith, a linebacker and tight end, had a future in college football as well. He had offers to play for Iowa State, Middle Tennessee State, Ball State and Buffalo.

Like many Pahokee players, Griffith occasionally stayed at Thompson’s home, and the football staff was like an extended family to him. Players and coaches have been consoling each other since Griffith’s death, and many said there was no reason to expect it.

“It’s a complete shock,” said quarterback Nu’Keese Richardson, a senior. “He’s never been in any trouble.”

Griffith was one of the quieter players on the team and typically was shy around people he did not know. But underneath that exterior, his mother said, was a warm, engaging spirit.

“He’s got a wonderful personality once you get to know him,” she said. “When he opens up to you, he won’t let you go. He’s got a sweet personality.”

Griffith’s father gave him the nickname “Pooh” at a young age, and his mother yelled, “Hey Pooh,” when she arrived at football games.

His mother lives in Belle Glade, but Griffith played for the Blue Devils because his father lives in Pahokee.

Jackie Griffith, a Palm Beach County school bus driver, did not see her son’s final game. She took a rare Friday night assignment, driving Seminole Ridge to its game at Palm Beach Lakes.

Pahokee Principal Ariel Alejo told Thompson that the school will have grief counselors on campus Monday. Thompson planned to have a team meeting today.

The Blue Devils, two-time defending state champions and the top-ranked team in Class 2B, are scheduled to play a nationally televised game Friday against Byrnes High in South Carolina.

Thompson said he is unsure whether the team will go.

Jackie Griffith said they should go.

“I want them to go and play their heart out,” she said.

Griffith is the second Glades-area football player involved in a shooting in the past week, but authorities said there is no link between the two.

On Monday, a junior cornerback for Glades Central High was shot in the hand during a fight after practice. Authorities said the athlete, Byron Blake, 17, returned fire after the shooting. Blake said he did not know who shot him.

For other articles about Norman Griffith, click these links:

Pahokee football player mourned; investigators look for any ties to recent Belle Glade violence

Pahokee honors Norman Griffith by playing

Song carries Pahokee through grief, Byrnes game

Pahokee football player remembered with joy and tears

Touched by tragedy, Pahokee (Fla.) looks to win one for ‘Pooh’