LaRon Cephas was the Pied Piper of the Bates Boys and Girls Club, using his charm, charisma and a dose of determination to recruit children from Bates Middle School in Annapolis to sign up for its new sports leagues and activities.
The 6-foot-7 former Maryland basketball player would show the kids his Final Four ring and would engage them in any subject to show them he cared.
Now club and county school and recreation officials are faced with the heartbreaking task of helping the nearly 800 children he worked with grieve his stunning loss. Cephas, 29, died suddenly Monday, collapsing at his home in Annapolis. The cause of his death is being investigated. "He went out of his way to spend time here," Bates Middle Principal Diane Bragdon said. "As far as I'm concerned, he was pure good, and it's a big loss for the Annapolis community."
Cephas, who was hired in August as the club's athletic director, was to be promoted today to program director. Reginald Broddie, chief professional officer of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, said Cephas had wanted the announcement of his new job to include children.
"That's just who he was," Broddie said. "He meant so much to the children. Not only did he mean so much to them, but to the parents. He thought it was important for them to be part of the kids' experience at the club."
Cephas worked six days a week, hiding from Broddie that he occasionally opened the gym on Sundays to give the kids a place to go.
"I was so proud of him because today's youth development professional is so different than when I came up," Broddie said. "I just saw how he committed himself to taking care of the kids. He knew what it meant."
Broddie said Cephas' parents were scheduled to visit the club yesterday afternoon and pick up some of cards, posters and banners that the children made to express what he meant to them and how much they will miss him.
Bates Middle School officials went to the club upon learning of his death just before 2 p.m. Monday. The county also sent a crisis response team to help the children there work through their feelings.
"I just think that LaRon was a role model, and our job is to keep his memory alive because he can be a role model for a very long time for the kids," said Carole Alexander, the club's director of development. "It's not often we have a role model for our kids even after his life has ended."
Joshua Roach, an athletic supervisor for Recreation and Parks who worked with Cephas a lot in the past several months, was impressed that he didn't dwell on basketball and his career at Maryland, where he was a backup forward from 1997 to 2001. He said Cephas was happy to help the kids with homework and mentor them.
"He wouldn't talk at them; he'd talk to them and with them. He always had their attention," Roach said.
Bragdon added that it was easy to understand why so many children broke down on Monday and remained upset yesterday: "They lost their friend."