ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
Now, to students at another school, this one in Avon Lake, Ohio. They're focused not just on studies, but for now, on grief. One of their own, Michael Medders, Jr., was buried on Friday. Army Captain Medders was killed last month in Iraq, and he's a figure kids at Avon Lake's high school still remember from the choir to the football team. Karen Schaeffer of member station WKSU paid the school a visit.
(Soundbite of announcement)
KAREN SCHAEFFER: Classes at Avon Lake High School were dismissed early so school officials could get the gym ready for Michael Medders' wake. The high school is the only place large enough to hold hundreds of mourners in this small middle-class town on Lake Erie.
Medders is the first soldier from Avon Lake to die in Iraq. The 25-year-old was killed September 24th by a roadside bomb after serving for more than a year in an armored cavalry unit. Michael Medders grew up in Avon Lake but was born in nearby Elyria, where his father has been police chief for 32 years. Elyria Mayor Bill Grace says people from both communities lined the streets when his body came home.
Mayor BILL GRACE (Elyria, Ohio): It was said, and it was, you know, heartwarming to see when the procession from the airport to here in Avon Lake, the thousands and thousands of residents and children who came out to show their support for the family.
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SCHAEFFER: Michael Medders was a high school football star for the Avon Lake Shoreman and was named to the All-State team before graduating in 2001. Coach David Delucas (ph) says he was a leader both on and off the field. His son, Andrew, and Medders were close friends.
Mr. DAVID DELUCAS (Football Coach, Avon Lake High School): As tough as he was on the football field, he had that real kind and gentle and accepting side and helped out a lot of the younger kids on the football team. And Andrew happened to be one of them.
SCHAEFFER: Coach Delucas says, in high school, Medders was self-disciplined, but he also loved highjinks. He recalls one time when Medders and two friends played a prank on Andrew, who was a year younger.
Mr. DELUCAS: They taped him up, and they kidnapped him from the high school, and they just threw him in the car. Our seniors have senior privilege, senior pass, and they go out for lunch. The juniors don't, and so Andrew got in a lot of trouble because he was not where he's supposed to be. But actually, what they did, they taped him up and took him out to lunch.
SCHAEFFER: Michael Medders graduated with honors from Avon Lake and went on to play football at Walsh University and Bowling Green State University. He graduated with a business major from Bowling Green in 2005, then joined the Army. In Iraq, Medders continued to keep in touch with teachers and classmates by email. Former classmate Rory Scarvelli (ph) says he'll never forget what Medders did after the high school football team lost the championship.
Mr. RORY SCARVELLI: He was one of the first guys to, you know, come up to us and, you know, put his arm around us and say, hey man, we played our best. You know, we did what we could, and it didn't work out this time. But you know, we had a good run at it. We had some fun.
SCHAEFFER: Avon Lake music teacher William Zurkey (ph) says he had no trouble getting Michel Medders to join the high school choir, where the younger students looked up to the football player with a big baritone voice.
Mr. WILLIAM ZURKEY (Music Teacher, Avon Lake High School): Mike was a fun guy. And when he had a chance, you know, he'd let loose. And occasionally, you'd have to look at him up there and, you know, get him on task, but boy, when he was going, he was going well.
SCHAEFFER: Michael Medders had planned to get married after coming home from Iraq in February. The friends who were to be attendants at his wedding served instead as pallbearers at his funeral. For NPR News, I'm Karen Schaeffer.
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