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'We Need Prayer': Sudden Deaths of 14-Year-Old Ball Player & Young Ref Leave Communities Stunned

(Photo by Markus Spiske/Unsplash)

The sudden deaths of two young people during high school basketball events in separate states have left their communities in shock.

In Pennsylvania, one sports community is paying tribute to a 45-year-old referee after he collapsed and died during a high school basketball game last Friday. 

Michael Roebuck was remembered as a beloved coach and referee in Westmoreland County.

The veteran official was about to take the court after halftime between a junior varsity game between Yough Senior High School and Mt. Pleasant Area Senior High School, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

Michael Fleming, another referee at the game, said Roebuck collapsed as they were leaving the dressing room.

"The first thing I thought of was we have to get him help," Fleming told the Tribune-Review. "I ran out to get a trainer. It was chaos. I just met the guy."

Paramedics worked for nearly an hour to resuscitate Roebuck, but he died on the way to the hospital. 

The second half of the game was canceled and the subsequent varsity game was postponed. 

Roebuck had been refereeing since 2019, but took a break during the COVID-19 pandemic. He returned to the position in 2023. 

"I was actually there. I went to watch him referee last night, which I really hadn't done, so it was odd that's the way that it happened," said Jerica Roebuck, his wife. 

Many in the community have paid tribute to Roebuck. 

"Somebody is going to have some big shoes to fill," Ron Smithley told WTAE

"This area lost a really, really great guy," said Doug Yannascoli.

He leaves behind a son and a daughter.

Meanwhile, an Illinois community is honoring the life of a 14-year-old high school freshman who collapsed during a girls' basketball game and later died.

Amari Crite, a freshman at Momence High School, was playing against Tri-Point High School during a junior varsity basketball game when she suddenly collapsed transitioning to play defense. 

The Kankakee County Coroner's Office said the cause of death is pending further study, the Daily Journal reports.

Amari's family has set up a GoFundMe page to help assist with funeral costs. 

Her mother, Michelle Crite, wrote, "As some if not all of you may know our precious baby girl passed away last night January 25 when she collapsed at her basketball game. We are asking for any and everyone to help us give her the proper homegoing she deserves. No amount too small no amount too big. And most of all we need prayer! Services will be shared when everything is arranged."

The page has raised more than $54,000–well over its $15,000 goal. 

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Momence Superintendent Shannon Anderson issued a statement following the student's death. 

"We are deeply saddened to confirm the heartbreaking news of the passing of one of our 9th-grade students on January 25, 2024. Our thoughts and condolences go out to the family and friends affected by this tragic loss," she wrote. 

A former coach wrote on Crite's GoFundMe page that he would never forget the fear that hit him when one of his players collapsed. 

"As a former coach, who had a player collapse on the court (luckily she recovered just fine), I will never forget the fear instilled in me from that unforgettable moment & neither will the other players," the donor wrote. 

"Watching a player leave in an ambulance, or worse a hearse, can't be unseen. My family & I are praying for her family, coach, teammates, & school districts," he added. 

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