Article below by Dana Hunsinger Benbow originally appeared on Indianapolis Star; also see articles by People and Sports Illustrated; and article by Benbow on KeShawn's younger brother joining the team for sectionals.
KeShawn Smith was captain of the Bethany Christian basketball team, a 6-3 standout who also played soccer. He loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and razzed the cafeteria workers to make them for him even on the days they weren't served.
He was honored Friday at Bethany's senior night as the team took on Fremont, losing in a nail-biter 48-46. Smith scored more than a third of Bethany's points and led the team with 17. After the game that night, he tweeted about it.
On Saturday, Smith woke up and went to basketball practice, then to an early dinner with his team at Das Dutchman Essenhaus, a home-style restaurant serving noodles, creamed chicken and biscuits and country smoked sausage.
As Smith left the restaurant, he got into his Honda Civic and headed to Huntington University for a recruiting weekend for basketball.
Smith never made it to Huntington.
The 18-year-old from Goshen died in a crash Saturday, just days before he would play in his high school sectional game at Fremont.
Shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday, Smith's 2002 Civic, traveling southbound on Ind. 15, crossed the center line into the path of a northbound 2013 Ford Expedition, according to the Kosciusko County Sheriff's Department. The Expedition, which was towing a 2014 Jeep Commander on a car dolly, was driven by Ramiro Mendoza Fajardo, 30, of Goshen.
The Kosciusko County Coroner's Office pronounced Smith dead at the scene. Mendoza Fajardo and his passenger refused medical treatment, but Mendoza Fajardo was taken to the hospital for a blood draw, said Christopher Francis, public information officer for Kosciusko County Sheriff's Department.
"There is no indication of foul play," said Francis, who was at the scene of the accident Saturday. The crash, he said, is still under investigation.
'I just started crying'
Bethany basketball coach Ryan Gingerich first met Smith his sophomore year, when he took the coaching job.
"From day one, that smile," he said. "He captured me with that smile and personality from the first day I got the job. He is one of those guys you never want to graduate."
Gingerich was home Saturday when he got the call that Smith had died.
"I just started crying," he said. "I got off the phone and my son, he’s 9, said, 'Daddy, what happened? Did you get fired?' I said, 'Son, I only wish that is what I just heard.'"
Life was quickly put into perspective, Gingerich said. Basketball was put into perspective. Smith, in his last two games had scored 39 points and had 20 rebounds. He loved playing.
When the coach went to Smith's mom's house Sunday, she had something important to tell him.
'You guys are playing Friday," she told Gingerich. "KeShawn would want you playing."
He transcended grade levels
Smith was the kid who walked through the halls giving high-fives to the younger students. Bethany serves grades 4 through 12.
"They loved him for it," said J. Hank Willems, principal at Bethany and Smith's varsity soccer coach.
Smith was the popular athlete with a smile on his face at the school of about 300. He was captain of the soccer team and had been named first team all-conference the past two years. The team also won back-to-back sectional titles.
"KeShawn was an extremely hard worker and just a great kid to coach," Willems said. "We have had better players at Bethany, but none more important to our team."
After his death, social media flooded with kind words about Smith.
The school posted on its Facebook and Twitter page: "We are deeply saddened to share the news of the tragic death of KeShawn Smith, a senior basketball and soccer player for the Bruins. We will miss his ready smile, big heart, and great laugh. Keep the family and the Bethany community in your prayers as we grieve this tremendous loss."
The school he was headed to with dreams of playing basketball sent out its thoughts.
"By all accounts, KeShawn was a big-hearted and kind athlete who was destined for great things, and Huntington University was very much looking forward to getting to know him," Huntington posted on social media. "A tragedy like this brings to mind Psalm 34:18: The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
Carla Craw was one of those cafeteria workers who knew of Smith's love of peanut butter and jelly.
"KeShawn, I have known you since you were in 6th grade. I've watched you grow up to be a fine young man," Craw posted on Facebook. "You're not just a student when you come into the cafeteria, you are like one of our own....You will be missed dearly by all of the school and all of us in the kitchen. Now you can have all the PBJs you want, any day, not just on Fridays anymore."
To honor Smith, the basketball team will wear a special warm-up shirt for its sectional game. T-shirts in memory of Smith are being made to be worn by fans. Bethany has asked the entire community to attend its sectional game Friday at 6 p.m. at Fremont. It will provide buses for transportation for students who need a ride.
"Let’s make this a night to heal," the school said, "but also cheer, support and celebrate."
"Hopefully," said Gingerich, this is a celebration of KeShawn on Friday."