Smith students hold vigil for classmate

A signed football and Austin Jon Park's Smith Valley Bulldogs jersey became the symbols for a vigil held by students in Smith on Wednesday night.

Four of Austin's teammates hugged members of his family after talking about the 14-year-old student, who died Saturday at his home.

More than 250 people packed the multipurpose room at Smith Valley School to say farewell to Austin, a member of a Carson Valley pioneer family.

In the vigil organized by his classmates, students hugged and comforted one another.

Student Rachel Wagner offered the family her condolences from her classmates.

"This is not just from me," she said. "It is to and from all of us. Austin was always the life of the party. He was always interested in making a thing more cool. We are all Bulldogs, just as Austin would have wanted us to be."

Austin attended the rural Smith Valley school for a year and a half, according to Principal Keri Pommerening. The school has 221 students kindergarten through 12th grade. About 121 of them are considered high school students. Pommerening said she expected the vast majority of them to attend services in Gardnerville held Thursday.

Teammate runningback Dustin Peterson told students that at the game against rival Coleville, even though the Bulldogs were 30 points down, when Austin made a touchdown he still made a fistpump.

Wide receiver Frank Stearns called Austin an amazing person.

"If there's a football team in Heaven, then Austin is on it," he said.

Teal Olson said Austin joined the FFA Dairy Team when it went to nationals in October.

She described part of the initiation as eating White Castle burgers. After some goading, Austin finally partook, only to have them come back up.

"Even then, he came back with a big smile," she said. "I'll always, always remember that."

Students prepared a 15-minute slideshow about Austin and his activities. Between photos, they'd written messages to Austin and his family.

"I will never forget your smiling face," wrote Kayla Hunter.

"I will miss you forever," said Brian Jacobsen.

At the beginning of the service, Student Body President Charmi Pommerening told family members how much they would miss Austin.

"He was always willing to help someone in need," she said.

After the vigil, mourners lit candles in Austin's memory.

A Web site has been set up for Austin at, so that people may leave their condolences.

As of Thursday, the site had attracted more than 90 posts.

A former Carson Valley resident, Austin was born Feb. 22, 1994, in Carson City.

In addition to Smith Valley football, Austin played for Douglas Tiger Pop Warner football, and was an award-winning Carson Valley Middle School wrestler.A good student, Austin won $100 at the Douglas County Spelling Bee as a participant from Minden Elementary School in February 2006.

More than 600 people attended a Mass of Resurrection on Thursday at St. Gall Catholic Church. Burial followed at Mottsville Cemetery.

He is survived by his parents, Jon and Molly Park; sister Brooke Park; grandparents Bruce and Nancy Park, grandmother Sue Whittaker, grandparents Kathne and Mike Dowd, great-grandmother Norma Gomes and other family members.


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