A dozen memorial scholarships were given out on Senior Awards Night last week at Cape Henlopen. Those names are etched as part of Cape culture.
Amaya Daisey received the Tammy Hopkins and Jeff Burnham scholarships. Here are their stories.
Tammy, a Cape girl and basketball player, passed away Oct. 10, 2014. In February 2014, I paid respect to Black History Month by celebrating a different local Afro-American person each day. Tammy Hopkins was the closer on day 28. This is what I wrote: Twenty-four years ago on Oct. 7, 1989, a bright light of life was dimmed forever. Cape senior Tammy Hopkins, a gregarious and friendly person, affable and nice and friends with everyone, was riding in a car on Saturday morning on Route 16 heading from Ellendale through Milton on her way to work at McDonald’s and was T-boned by an inattentive driver who ran a stop sign coming across Route 30.
Tammy took a hit and suffered instant traumatic brain injury. Just like that, the smiling senior and student who loved school and people was taken from her family, friends and all of us.
Tammy’s family includes parents William Hopkins, Joyce Hopkins, Cornealia Bradley, John Bradley and siblings Thurman Hopkins, Anthony Hopkins, William Hopkins Jr., Terri Sewell, Travis Bailey and Omar Rashada.
Tammy went to Beebe, then was shortly transported to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, Md., where she stayed for 24 days.
From Peninsula, Tammy was transported to A.I. duPont, where she remained for eight months.
Tammy left A.I. and was transferred to Coopers Hospital in Camden, N.J., and remained there for two years.
Let me say that Tammy was a student of mine, and a friend and classmate of my daughter Carrie and all her friends. I kept seeing Tammy in class with a big smile, changing her seat multiple times every class period. She would sit backward so she could look into the face of the person behind her. I remember a blond girl, an exchange student from Norway. She and Tammy were just fascinated to learn from each other. Tammy wasn’t a light, she was her own laser show. I had seen students like that over my career. There is no room big enough to hold their zest for just being in the world.
The Monday following Tammy’s accident, I came to work at Cape and it was just a different place. A hanging sadness permeated the hallways and classrooms. By the end of the day, I reached the class that was missing Tammy and filled with her friends. They were silent and so was I, but I realized they were waiting for my voice, to hear the sound of my words wash over the bones and over their souls.
I told her close friends they needed to go see her, to stand next to her, and perhaps she could sense them, and I told them it would be the hardest thing they ever did, but they would feel better afterward.
Tammy came home for good in 1992, and her father Bill changed his own lifestyle, rose to the occasion and took care of Tammy until 2011, when his own health made that impossible.
The Tammy Hopkins Scholarship fund was established in 2006 and has awarded 27 scholarships since its inception.
A Tammy Hopkins Basketball Tournament is held annually to raise funds for the scholarship.
I had no idea I would close out my 28 days of my own Black History calendar with Tammy Hopkins, but it made sense. She continued to teach all who knew her how to embrace all people, with a passionate interest in who they are and what they are all about. Her family is heroic. May the heavens forever smile upon Tammy Hopkins.
Amaya also received the Jeff Burnham scholarship.
Jeff was a Cape lineman who graduated in 1986 and passed away in 2014 from colon cancer. I wrote this June 24, 2014, and read it at his memorial service, where I managed to cry in the first 10 seconds.
Jeff Burnham was tough, but never mean; rugged, but mostly gentle; loyal like a Labrador; smart like a professor guy who laughed spontaneously when his buddies went stupid. He was also respectful of older folks who impacted his life and always let them know it. Jeff knew tradition and was proud wherever he was part of it.
I was Jeff’s line coach his senior year at Cape and also a social studies classroom teacher. I joked that the offensive line of Tom Sombar, Sean Maedler, Mike Hilligoss, Myron Selby and Jeff, all pushing 1,200 on their SATs, were too smart to play reckless defense; they should stay on the calculating side of the football where they could exploit the “act and react” defenders who tracked down ball carriers like Chesapeakes on wounded ducks.
One practice day I was working live line blocking against unsuspecting defenders and sent Jeff pulling to kick out sophomore Frank Sekscinski. Frank saw him coming and instead of stepping down to meet and neutralize the block, took off running for Route 1. We all fell out laughing and Frank turned toward me and said, “Are you crazy? I don’t want to get run over by that truck.”
Jeff was jazzed to start at nose guard in a game down at Indian River, but on the very first play from scrimmage Jeff’s hand got caught up inside the center's face mask and his finger split open, exposing the bone. Jeff was on his back, looking at his hand and screaming. I had a similar experience in high school with a mere dislocated finger at a right angle, and I had totally freaked out. It’s not the pain, but rather the sudden vision of your own deformity that causes the reaction.
When Jeff came back to play, the cast and splint on his finger looked like they were wrapped to protect everyone in the stadium, including the cheerleaders. Jeff had this cartoon-looking club at the end of his arm, but he played because he didn't want to leave the game.
Jeff died [June 24, 2014], and I know he didn’t want to leave the game, and God knows we want him here.
Sunday, June 22,  was the 19th Bill Degnan 5K. Bill was a teacher and coach who died at 43 years of age, and like Jeff, he was a strong man who was soft on tough kids. Jeff worked at the alternative school and could have come home to Cape whenever he wanted, but he liked knowing he could help kids who were down to their last chance.
The last football practice of Jeff’s senior year, coach Rob Schroeder had a tradition: Each senior would take a free shot at their position coach who was holding a heavy blocking dummy. I stood there and braced myself as Jeff came roaring at me from 15 yards away like a runaway coal car heading toward a mountain goat. I knew it was the stupidest decision I ever made while sober.
Jeff rocked me as the pain in my sternum radiated out to my ribs, and my mandible chattered while my teeth felt like 32 root canals. I didn’t have a stinger; I had been stung by a “Milton Man o' War.”
Jeff looked over and gave me a “bad-ass boy” look and I returned his gaze like, “That’s all you got?”
Jeff was just a thoroughly good person and we are all hurting. Hell, I’m still hurting from 1986. Love you, Jeff. Thanks for being my friend.