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150 gather to grieve for player

On the same football field where Chip Stoskopf "gave 100 percent" to his junior varsity team, the 14-year-old Citrus High School student was remembered late Tuesday by more than 150 teammates, teachers and friends.

Stoskopf died of heart failure late last week after collapsing during a game at Lake Weir High School.

Emotions ran high after the formal viewing as those friends and teachers gathered to remember Stoskopf's hard work, varied interests and determination in his sports, in overcoming dyslexia and in succeeding at whatever he put his mind to do.

"It's too bad that it takes something this drastic," one teammate said, pausing to swallow back the tears, "and this shocking, to realize just how important friends are."

Before the informal memorial service, Stoskopf's teammates gathered on one side of the field, speaking in quiet tones.

At a table in front of the audience, students filed by silently examining memorabilia of the boy's life: trophies, a baseball cap, family photos, tennis equipment and a golf club.

Principal Ed Staten noted that Stoskopf had an interest in many activities. "But this was the first time he'd gone out for football," he said before the ceremony began.

The entire junior varsity team marched onto the field and several stepped up to the microphone to share their thoughts on the death of their teammate.

"He was a pretty good friend of mine," one said. "When he died, it really bothered me."

Another described Stoskopf as "a real hard worker.

"I didn't know how much he liked football until he played it with us . . . He put a lot of heart and determination into what he did."

Still another said, "I pray I will never forget his warm, friendly, loving smile."

The team presented Stoskopf's mother Connie Denney with a plaque noting that her son would "always be a Citrus High School Hurricane," a card signed by many of the boy's friends, and with his black No. 25 game jersey. Each team member stepped up to hug Mrs. Denney and offer occasional whispered words of support.

"He taught us a great deal about motivation, pride and learning disabilities," said Andy Nott, a school psychologist who had worked with Stoskopf. "Chip learned to overcome many obstacles, and it is certain that he will inspire many others to face life's obstacles."

The Rev. Larry Hartman offered a prayer and urged Stoskopf's friends to grieve and to remember their classmate fondly.

"He was an achiever, and you can be too," Hartman said. "Just remember, the number of years you spend in this life are not as important as what you do with them."

In the final moments of the service, friends were encouraged in Stoskopf's memory, to donate to a fund to help other students with learning disabilities and asked to help their classmates who might need extra help.

Then, after a cluster of black, gold and white balloons were released, many of the audience members gathered around the family and the team.