CHARLESTON — Sharonda Coleman-Singleton’s friends threw her a big party Thursday night.
She was there only in spirit.
The high school speech therapist and women’s track and field coach was one of nine people shot to death Wednesday night in the basement of a church in downtown Charleston, S.C.
Less than 24 hours later, friends, colleagues, and students of Coleman-Singleton filled the gymnasium of Goose Creek High School outside Charleston to honor the schoolteacher’s legacy. The vigil featured spirited gospel music and emotional tributes from school administrators and fellow coaches. At times, there seemed to be hardly a dry eye in the house.
Among those mourning Coleman-Singleton was Joe Hauff, the men’s track coach at Goose Creek High. Over the years, Hauff said, the two spent countless hours together, most of them at track meets. Their lives off the track were also similar. They had kids the same age and shared a mutual passion for athletics. Each struggled with the challenge of raising children while also finding time to teach and coach.
Coleman-Singleton, Hauff notes, did all that as a single parent, too.
“She’s got three great kids,” Hauff said, “but she had to work at it.”
When it came to track and field, Hauff said he enlightened Coleman-Singleton about some of the finer, technical aspects of the sport.
But “she taught me a lot more,” he noted. Specifically, he said, “in how to handle the adversity of a teenager.”
Coleman-Singleton’s track athletes expressed a similar admiration for their coach.
“She supported us. She always saw greatness in us no matter what,” said Kamryn Simmons, a high school junior on the women’s track and field team. “She always had a smile on her face, even when she was yelling at us.”
Simmons’s twin sister, Alexis, recalled how Coleman-Singleton would run beside her athletes to motivate them, referring to the maneuver as “cheek to cheek.”
Children seemed to occupy the center of Coleman-Singleton’s universe. Many students and faculty at Goose Creek High remember her as a woman willing to help anyone in need, whether or not she was their teacher or coach.
“She was always fighting for her kids,” said Goose Creek High principal Jimmy Huskey, who has worked at the school for 27 years. “She was a bulldog for her children.”
As the vigil came to a close, as the gospel music faded and the gymnasium began to empty, Coleman-Singleton’s oldest son walked out with his sister and friends, headed for a memorial created beside the school’s track and football stadium. Chris Singleton, a baseball player at Charleston Southern University, carried a flower in his hand as he remembered his mother.
He had last spoken to her by phone when she was at Bible study, asking her where she had hidden the remote control in the house. In the closet, she whispered to him, so his younger brother would not play too many video games.
They hung up, oblivious to the tragedy that was soon to unfold. Moments later, the gunman, who had allegedly sat with his victims as they prayed, began his rampage.
Despite the tragedy, Chris Singleton was stoic Thursday evening as he spoke about his mother.
“She was a great coach, she was an even better mother,” he said. “She smiled 24/7. That was her trademark.”
Stopping before a picture of his mother near the track, he placed the flower on her memorial while a small crowd looked on. The sun had just set, and all was silent.
No one had anything left to say.