CHAPEL HILL — The death of CHHS football player Atlas Fraley, though it came miles and hours away from a football field, left the sports world stunned this week.
Fraley died Tuesday afternoon, but officials at the state Medical Examiner's Office have yet to deterimine the cause of death.
Word swept through the community quickly. Many of Fraley’s teammates were at the game scrimmage between Carrboro and East Chapel Hill High School on the ECHHS campus when they learned of his passing. And many had expected to see him there as they scouted their future opponents.
Cell phones started vibrating all over Wildcat Stadium just about 6:20 p.m., shortly after Fraley’s parents found him in their home. Stunned looks on the faces of the CHHS players alerted many spectators nearby that something was wrong. Grief overcame several. One, sobbing, was led away by an adult.
But most people in the stands failed to realize what was happening because of events at the stadium, itself. Carrboro wide receiver DeMarcus Powell was lying at midfield, in severe pain after suffering a knee injury.
Many Jaguar and Wildcat fans confused the sorrow of the CHHS players and coaches with concern for the injured Powell, who waited on the field about 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. That was due in part to a major car pile-up just minutes before on Interstate 40, not far away from East Chapel Hill.
Rumors and speculation flew through the crowd as CHHS players began to leave the stadium in groups of two and three. The atmosphere was muddled further by the growing anger in many parents that Powell had yet to be taken to a hospital.
Word about Fraley eventually spread among the Carrboro and ECH players who lined the field, watching as Powell waited for help to arrive.
Many Jaguar players, especially, most of whom had been at CHHS before being redistricted into the new high school in Carrboro, knew Fraley well. Students wept in the parking lot. ECH linebacker George Spears, a transfer who played on the same CHHS defense with Fraley, found it difficult to continue with the scrimmage when play resumed.
CHHS coach Issac Marsh and offensive coordinator Ricky Bynum were on their call phones almost constantly outside Wildcat Stadium, pausing only long enough to confirm Fraley’s passing before they walked off, silent.
Fraley, a 6-2, 250-pound tackle, was on the verge of what should have been his best year ever. Overshadowed perhaps by the heavy recruiting of top prospects Jared McAdoo and Robert Crisp off the CHHS defensive line, Fraley was nonetheless on the list of several division I schools.