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High school remembers athlete

When Charles Lee stepped to the podium at James McGriff's funeral Saturday, he said he was going to "attempt" to sing to his classmate and friend.

As his strong voice gained strength, overcoming the tears that threatened to hold it back, the 1,000-plus mourners in the Palm Bay High School auditorium rose to their feet and helped him.

The friends and family of the star athlete who drowned in a rip current last week stood and swayed and clapped in rhythm.

Freedom in heaven was the theme of the "Homecoming Service."

McGriff, an all-state running back, was eulogized by his friends, pastor, high school principal John Thomas and Steve Spurrier, coach for the University of Florida.

The day McGriff disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean, Thomas said that the 19-year-old was one young man who had the ability to accomplish anything.

He was a football and track star, an above average student academically who had a reputation for looking out for the younger, smaller ones on campus and in his neighborhood.

"Many of our students have expressed feeling of being robbed. They want to know why James McGriff? He had everything in place," Thomas said.

The principal said the night McGriff disappeared was the longest of his career. But from his faith came some answers, and those answers were what he tried to share with his students Saturday.

"We still have life left to live and accomplishments to seek. We must move forward to higher ground. I can hear James McGriff saying to you, "Do your best. Be all you can be.'

"We must live as closely as we can to what he did. James would not lose. James has not lost," Thomas said.

The students were also the focus of Palm Bay coach Alonzo Jefferson.

"I know what he would be telling you all right now. He'd say, "You all are gonna go to the prom tonight. And you're gonna go to graduation. And if you don't, I'm gonna be talking 'bout you,'

" Jefferson said, eliciting a burst of laughter.

Track team members staged a relay baton pass before the white casket, topped by flowers arranged in a football and UF's blue and orange colors, was wheeled to a waiting hearse.

At the service's conclusion, yet another of James' friends urged the crowd to its feet. Together they shouted after him:

"Run on, James! Run.

"We'll see you on the other side."