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A crowd of more than 6,000 observed a moment of silence and later erupted in applause at the Huntington Center on Friday night in honor of a Clay High School hockey player who lost his life in a tragic traffic crash last month.
The Toledo Walleye organization paid tribute to Cody Van Hersett, who died in the crash at the age of 16 on Jan. 12 in Oregon. The team honored the Van Hersett family during its game against Wheeling at the downtown arena.
Cody's father, John Van Hersett, said the support of the northwest Ohio hockey community has helped the family deal with the devastation.
"It's a tremendous tribute to Cody," John Van Hersett said. "The hockey community is so phenomenal and tight knit and strong. They reached out to us and they said they'd be honored to do this for us."
The crowd hushed during a moment of silence after public address announcer Bobb Vergiels said, "Although small in size, Cody was known to be a fierce competitor and fearless when it came to matching up against his opponents."
Michelle Van Hersett, Cody's mother, called the moment "amazing."
"It's hard being here. It's bittersweet," she said. "It's just so respectful. I don't know how we could have done it without everybody's support."
Cody's Clay hockey teammates gathered on the ice during the first intermission to participate in a shootout. Cody's younger brother Jarod wore his brother's jersey number and was the last shooter. When Jarrod scored, the crowd cheered wildly.
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"That was awesome. Just awesome," Michelle Van Hersett said.
Clay senior A.J. Burns, a team captain, said having the Van Hersett family participate in the event was special.
"That was really cool. [Jarrod] kind of looks up to us," Burns said. "So to have him out here with us and keep him around us is cool for him and cool for us."
Burns said the teammates are doing their best to cope with the loss of one of their best friends and one of the team's top players.
"We're as good as can be expected," Burns said. "It's nice to see the support from the community, especially the hockey community. It's great that they come out and continue to support us and the family for everything we've all been through."
John Van Hersett said the Walleye organization donated tickets and food at the game to the family and players.
Michelle Van Hersett said the team gave the family a Walleye jersey with Cody's last name and number on it.
"To me when they presented the Walleye jersey with his name and number on it was just really neat," Van Hersett said. He also said he is "overloaded" with commemorative bracelets and T-shirts.
"Everyone wants to have one," he said.
The outpouring of support also has served as confirmation to the Van Hersetts that Cody had made a lasting impact on many people.
"I'm just amazed," Van Hersett said. "As Cody's parents, you always kind of put your kid up on kind of a pedestal. But for everyone else to think that about him and say that … it's just amazing the number of people he affected by the age of 16. I'm 40 and I haven't affected 10 percent as many people as he did. It's a testament to who he was."
Michelle Van Hersett said it helps to hear people say "all the great things about him."
"They have confirmed what we always thought about him," she said. "He's done more than what we have done as adults."
John Van Hersett said Cody's teammates still come over to the house and treat their other sons, Ethan and Jarod, as their brothers.
"All of Cody's friends on the hockey team have always been great before this happened. And now it has just carried on a little more. They've taken over," John Van Hersett said. "As time goes on, you think things are going to taper off. But they really haven't."
The Clay hockey program and Oregon community are all too familiar with dealing with tragedy.
In November of 2008, Clay sophomore Kyle Cannon suffered a paralyzing neck injury in a game. On Dec. 26, his teammates participated in a third annual, daylong hockey event at the Huntington Center to support the Cannon family.
"The Oregon community has been through a lot, especially for such a small community," Michelle Van Hersett said. "I tell you when it gets ugly, we really stick together. It makes a big difference with such a tragic situation. "
Burns also played in the fund-raising event for Cannon in December.
"We've been though something like this with Kyle," Burns said. "But we've learned to work through the tragedy and get back to normal after something like this. Everyone came together right away."
Cody's parents said the soft-spoken teen would have shied away from the attention.
"Quite frankly, he would have been upset about all the attention," Van Hersett said. "He would say he didn't need it."
"He was very humble," Michelle Van Hersett agreed.
John said people in the community who his family does not even know have brought food and cards to the home.
"This has all helped a ton," Michelle Van Hersett said.
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.