(Photo credit/J.J. McQueen)

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

Elijah Gorham, a remarkable student-athlete who starred on Mervo’s football team, will be remembered as a young man full of character and charm with limitless potential.

The burgeoning football talent died Oct. 11, nearly a month after sustaining a serious brain injury in a game against Dunbar. Gorham, a senior wide receiver, incurred a critical injury during the Sept. 18 contest when he reportedly landed hard going for a catch in the end zone. He stayed down along the sideline for about 45 minutes and was subsequently taken to a hospital by an ambulance.

The disheartening news made national headlines as the local sports community, and the Mervo High School community in particular, mourns the untimely loss.

“Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the passing of our fellow brother, and teammate Elijah Gorham,” said the Mervo football program in a statement on Twitter. “We ask that our football community continue to uplift Elijah’s family, teammates and friends in prayer.”

Likewise, Mayor Brandon Scott, a graduate of Mervo, expressed heartfelt condolences in a tweet on Oct. 11.

“Elijah Gorham was more than a @HighMervo student athlete. He was a young man full of promise with an infectious spirit,” Scott said. “Elijah’s passing is an unspeakable tragedy. My heart goes out to his family and our @MustangGang410 community.”

Patrick Nixon, Mervo’s athletic director and head football coach, said he was in disbelief when he heard the bad news.

“To be honest with you, I never thought that he was going to pass. I knew that it was serious, I knew he was fighting for his life, but I’m a God-fearing man and I just wanted to believe that it wasn’t his time but you know God doesn’t make mistakes,” Nixon said of the 17-year-old.

“I’ve seen a lot in my 20 years of being an educator and a coach in Baltimore City, but never anything like this before.”

Nixon characterized Gorham, who was in his third season with the football program, as a model athlete with a “great personality, great smile” and “very quiet.” As a sophomore, Gorham led the junior varsity team to a championship appearance in 2019. 

He excelled academically and athletically, had taken up auto mechanics as a trade with a profound interest in photography, and was in the process of applying to various colleges.

“It’s kind of weird because I’m getting to know Elijah more and more now that he’s gone because I’m hearing some of these stories I didn’t know about him,” Nixon told the AFRO.

“He had a unique combination of personality, charisma. He was humble, popular, well-liked and you just don’t usually see that… he wasn’t the loudest person in the room, but he definitely had a presence everywhere he went and everybody gravitated toward him.”

The Mervo football team was scheduled to play against Baltimore City College Oct. 14 but the game was postponed. Instead, the school’s campus community joined Gorham’s relatives, teammates, friends and hundreds of community members for a candlelight vigil that evening.

“He is a team leader, he is his brother’s keeper, he encourages them,” said Shantres Shaw, Gorham’s mother, during the vigil. “He is – he’s Elijah. He’s just going to be missed.”

A fundraiser was organized that will sponsor an academic-athletic scholarship in Gorham’s name along with providing family support during this difficult time.

“I’m going to carry his legacy with me forever,” said James Gorham, his father. “I’m going to make sure whatever I can do to help young kids in sports, as far as making sure the right things are in place to help them out, that’s what I’m going to do.” 

Gorham’s teammates will dedicate the remainder of the football season in his memory. Nixon has challenged himself and his players to keep Gorham’s legacy alive by bettering themselves each day.

“The challenge for me personally and for all of us is to reflect on who he is, who he was and what he meant to us, and try to be a little bit better at those things,” Nixon explained.

“I think there’s no replacing him athletically or as a person but I think collectively it is our duty to, our job, to keep his spirit alive by being better people.” 

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