Solemn Tribute at Midcourt

By Cowen, Richard | The Record (Bergen County, NJ), January 4, 2015 | Go to article overview

Solemn Tribute at Midcourt


Cowen, Richard, The Record (Bergen County, NJ)


Saturday was to have been Nazerah Bugg's first home game with the girls basketball team at John F. Kennedy High School. But instead it was a memorial service for another teenager killed by gun violence, this one held in a Paterson gymnasium with hundreds of fans dressed all in black.

The game between the Lady Knights of Kennedy and the Bulldogs of the Passaic County Technical Institute was almost beside the point as more than 300 people turned out for a pregame tribute to Nazerah, the 14-year-old point guard who was killed by random gunfire last Sept. 20. Nazerah's mother, Kamilah, and grandmother, Jeanette, joined a pregame ceremony at midcourt to accept red carnations and a basketball from the Lady Knights.

"Obviously, everyone knows why we are here," Kennedy coach MarQuette Burgess said as the girl's grief-stricken mother and grandmother accepted the flowers. "We just wanted you to know that she meant a great deal to us as well."

The girl's mother wept during the moment of silence that followed, as did several players and some in the crowd.

Nazerah's basketball jersey, No. 3, was draped over a chair at the end of the Kennedy bench, and it will remain there the rest of the season.

"As long as I am coach of Kennedy, no player will ever wear the No. 3," Burgess said.

The gesture was a solemn tribute to Nazerah, who was killed before she ever got a chance to put on the uniform. Burgess said Nazerah impressed him when he saw her play in Paterson's summer youth basketball league. Even at 14, she had the maturity and ball- handling skills to play point guard on the varsity. She never got the chance.

The Lady Knights are now wearing arm patches on their warm-ups that say "NB3." Burgess said he hopes his players look at the empty chair at the end of the bench and know what it means.

"I tell my players, keep working hard," he said. "All the love that you have, put it to use. It doesn't have to fade away. Not just on the court, but in life."

The Lady Knights responded on Saturday with a spirited game, leading from start to finish and winning, 41-31.

Also paying tribute was Khamoni Flemmings, 16, who played basketball with Nazerah but has since moved to North Brunswick with her family. She came back to Paterson on Saturday dressed in black and with a song. The message behind "Sleep in Peace," she said, was "the violence has to stop." Flemmings sang it at halftime.

Nazerah was not the only Paterson girl to die in random gun violence last summer. Genesis Rincon, 12, was killed in a drive-by shooting while riding her scooter to the store on the evening of July 5. …

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