Player and cheerleader honored in Niles

NILES – Perhaps the only thing that Daylan Ray and Courtney Miller ever had in common before their tragic deaths this year is past Niles Little Red Dragons football seasons.

As the latest season got under way Saturday at Jim ”Coach” Leeper Sr. Field in Waddell Park, Ray, 15, of Warren and a former athlete on the team, and Miller, 21, of Niles and a former cheerleader and cheerleading coach, were honored before the start of youth league games.

Family and friends of Ray and Miller gathered at midfield as Leeper and team officials presented plaques and shadowbox frames containing uniforms of the two students they were remembering.

”There were a lot of emotions and a lot of tears out there,” Leeper said, pointing to the field afterward. ”I knew both kids and know their parents. We don’t want people to forget them. So we, as a board, decided to honor them.”

The plaques – known as memory boards – will be mounted on the building that houses the concession stand and offices.

”He was a great kid, a team captain and had a bright future as an athlete,” said Mike Collins, who coached Ray.

Ray’s sister, Kira Johnson, said her younger brother was preparing to train as a young member of the Warren G. Harding football team when he was killed.

Ray was in an SUV with seven other teens March 10 when the overloaded southbound vehicle drove off the left side of Niles Warren River Road into a pond, drowning six of the occupants and injuring the other two. It was called the deadliest crash in Trumbull County history.

Meanwhile, Chelsea Pascarella said she still misses her friend Miller, who she cheered with at Niles McKinley High School, where she graduated in 2009. Both were Little Red Dragon cheerleaders and both coached the youngest ”Squiggie” division girls.

Pascarella hugged Miller’s mother, Lisa Miller, while making the official presentation on the field.

Miller was set to graduate this year with honors from Ohio State University when she was killed March 16 in Ebro, Fla., as she and three friends were returning from spring break. Miller’s vehicle had drifted left of center into the path of oncoming pickup truck. One other student was killed and the other two seriously injured.

Leeper said plaques for Miller and Ray will hang alongside two other former players, whose numbers also were retired after their lives were cut short.

Number 86 worn by Lloyd McCoy, 11, of Warren, was retired Aug. 22, 2009, after he was killed in April of that year as an innocent bystander in a drive-by shooting at his Wick Street S.E. home in Warren.

Number 2 worn by Dean Gillespie, 15, of Niles, was retired Aug. 28, 2004, after he was killed in January of that year when he was struck by a car.