Tony Webster honored

Graham’s Devin Lester, wearing Lil’ Tony’s number 5 jersey, hugs a member of the Webster’s family on the field of Mitchell Stadium during the Beaver-Graham game on Friday.

BLUEFIELD — Hugs with words of love and sympathy joined cheers and a ringing bell Friday at one of the region’s biggest high school football games as teams and fans honored a young Bluefield athlete who died earlier this year.

Anthony Alexander Webster III, known as “Lil Tony” to friends and family, was a 17-year-old junior at Bluefield High School when he passed away Jan. 16 after suffering a fatal injury during a weightlifting session. The injury proved to be an aneurysm in his brain. He was transported to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital where he donated his internal organs to other people in need.

Webster, the son of popular area youth coach Anthony A. Webster Jr., played football for the Beavers. He was a junior in the Bluefield High School Class of 2020, and played full back on the 2017 Bluefield High School State Championship football team. He was becoming an accomplished powerlifter. Besides his activities at school, he was also an active member of the Mount Zion Baptist and the John Stewart United Methodist Church.

Cheers for the G-Men and the Beavers filled Mitchell Stadium as the teams prepared for their celebrated rivalry. Coaches and staff made last-minute preparations and cheerleaders posed for group shots before the game got underway.

But before the kickoff, everyone took time to remember Webster, Number 5 for the Beavers. His teammates went to the Webster family to share hugs, and more than one said, “We love you.” As the family went to the center of the field, football players came over from the Graham side to offer their sometimes tearful hugs and words of support.

Gov. Jim Justice attended the pre-game presentation and started a tradition honoring Webster’s memory. The governor described him as a young man who loved the Beavers, his community, and his family.

Justice then went to a shining bell hanging at the sidelines. Named for Tony Webster, the bell will be rung “from now to eternity every time the Beavers score,” he said.

“So with all the the honor in the world, I will ring first,” Justice said. “And Tony, I know we can’t see you, but all of us know he’s right here with us. So as we go forward, every time we score, offense, run off the field and let’s ring the bell.”

Webster’s family was also presented with his framed Number 5 jersey, which will hang at Bluefield High School in his honor. Members of his family said afterward that the outpouring of love and support everyone has offered them has helped.

“It means a lot. It’s just the support and the love from the community; both sides of the state line, Virginia and West Virginia,” Tony’s mother, Sharon Webster, said. “It has really helped us get through to this point, all the prayers and support. And we just really love it. My son’s name will be forever remembered, and never forgotten.”

“To the family, it’s tremendous,” Tony’s uncle, Derrick Blevins, said. “I mean, to let us know that Lil Tony was remembered like this and thought about like this in our community. It’s just amazing. Like my sister said, from both sides, West Virginia and Virginia, the community has been great. It’s just amazing to let us know he will always be remembered, also with the bell. It’s just amazing. No words can even explain it right now.”

The pre-game tribute was the latest memorial for Webster. In June, the school started remembering him on the fifth day of every month by having a balloon release at Lotito Park in Bluefield. Some balloons are painted with his number, 5. His teammates continued honoring his memory in August when a Bluefield player was selected each week for the honor of wearing his jersey, which will be retired at the end of the season. This year would have been Webster’s senior year.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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