As the funeral procession for Stacey Cerveny made its way from Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church to Oak Ridge Cemetery on Wednesday morning, the lead car made an unannounced detour.
The procession, 25 cars strong, glided along State Road 44 and turned into Whispering Pines Park off Forest Drive. There, it slowly rolled past the ball fields where Stacey had been such a familiar sight for years.
The former Citrus High softball star died Friday after a brief battle against leukemia. Her family, friends and teammates, still struggling with their loss, appreciated the silent salute to their friend's passion for athletics and sportsmanship.
"She was a competitor in life, on the field and off," said Chris Martone, who manages the Coach's Pub team in the Inverness Coed Softball League.
Stacey had pitched for him the last two years, when Coach's Pub won the league championship.
Like all of her friends, Martone was trying to make sense of what had happened during the past week.
Stacey, 28, had gone to Citrus Memorial Hospital last week complaining of a sore back. On Thursday, she was diagnosed with leukemia. She was transferred the same day to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, where she died on Friday.
A profound sense of loss stretched from the sporting communities of Citrus County to the Small World Learning Center in Crystal River.
Angie Tobiassen, a co-worker at Small World, said Stacey was hired about seven years ago and had a number of responsibilities. Stacey was in charge of the USDA food program, as well as summer programs for the children, and was crew leader for the whole staff.
Small World remained open Wednesday, "because that's how Stacey would have wanted it," Tobiassen said.
Parents of the children and community support people came in to oversee the center while most of the staffers attended the funeral, she added.
"The children are sad, and I don't think it's quite sunk in yet," Tobiassen said. "At first, they didn't say anything, and then out in the yard (Tuesday), the kids made hand prints for Stacey and carried on a regular conversation.
"One said, "She's gone to heaven,' and another added, "She can have all the cake and ice cream she wants.' Another child said, "She's going to get sick,' while a fourth one added, "You don't get sick in heaven.' "
Tobiassen called Stacey the "most unselfish person I've ever met."
"Whenever I got upset or didn't understand something, Stacey would say, "That's the way it is. You need to accept it and move on,' " Tobiassen said.
That's what her friends and teammates are trying to do now.
Martone informed his team of Stacey's death Friday night before their game against Our Lady of Fatima. Despite the difficult circumstances, the team responded with a 19-0 shutout victory.
"The majority of the team already knew," Martone said. "A couple of people wanted to know what happened, and a couple of others who'd been out ot town were shocked.
"The team we played that night wasn't that strong. We were mentally distraught but still able to play our game."
Stacey also played for Independent Aggregates, a team that finished second to Black Diamond in the Inverness Women's League the past spring and last fall.
Lisa Swing, Black Diamond's manager, talked about Stacey after attending the funeral.
"What I remember most about Stacey was her determination and loyalty," Swing said. "We tried a couple of times to get her to come and play with us, but she wouldn't do it. She was very loyal to the Aggregates and refused to leave them.
"Any team in the county that needed pitching always looked to Stacey first. We used to call her "the pitching machine' as she didn't walk anybody and was amazing."
Stacey's jersey will be retired tonight at the adult field at Whispering Pines Park.
Friends are launching efforts to have the field there named in her honor or some type of commemorative plaque mounted. There also are plans for a benefit tournament.