After Drowning, Game Offers Kids Closure

After Drowning, Game Offers Kids Closure

David R. Cohen

David R. Cohen is the former Associate Editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times. He is originally from Marietta, GA and studied Journalism at the University of Tennessee.

(Above): Jeremiah Tate (top left) poses with his cabin on one of the first days of camp.

Dunwoody High School freshman Ben Sokolik was looking forward to a summer full of sports, friends and fun when he arrived at Camp Thunderbird in June.

Part of a cabin filled with close friends from Atlanta, he was even more excited when he found out that one of his counselors was going to be Wofford College basketball player Jeremiah Tate. Sokolik, who is an avid basketball player, immediately took to the 19-year-old first-time counselor.

“He was a great counselor,” Ben said. “From the first day we met him, he was very helpful and extremely nice. If it got too overwhelming or loud in the cabin, he would tell us to stop. He was just a really good person in general.”

Ben and his Jewish cabinmates from Atlanta — Daniel Lewis, Sam Dankberg, Daniel St Amand, Daniel Stern, and twins Ryan and Justin Kaplin — settled in for a summer of late nights, campfires and good times with Tate.

Ten days into the camp session, tragedy struck.

On his night off, Tate jumped from a bridge into Lake Wylie with another counselor to go for a swim. The other counselor was fine after the leap, but Tate did not resurface, prompting rescue teams to be called.

Tate’s body was found 120 yards from shore after more than two hours of searching June 22. He had drowned.

“We got woken up in the middle of the night by police and one of the heads of camp,” Ben said.

“Nobody knew what was going on, not even the counselors. I didn’t find out what happened until the next afternoon.”

Camp Thunderbird, which is under the YMCA umbrella, brought in grief counselors, but Ben took the loss of Tate harder than most.

“The day after the tragedy I headed up to the camp, given that my son was quite upset,” Sharon Sokolik said. “After speaking with the camp and seeing the direction they were taking with the grief counseling, I realized that this cabin full of Jewish boys was not necessarily going to relate to the way the pastor was presenting the concept of death.”

Sokolik reached out to Rabbi Noam Raucher of Temple Israel in Charlotte, about an hour away from the camp. Rabbi Raucher spent a few hours with the boys and talked with them about Tate and his impact on their lives. The entire group said Kaddish for their counselor.

“I was really surprised to hear about this cabin full of Jewish boys at a YMCA summer camp,” Rabbi Raucher said. “It was really beautiful the way they were all supportive of one another and resilient as well. They were really tapped in to their connection with Jeremiah and the way that he had inspired and touched their lives. All the boys were mensches.”

Ben and the rest of his cabin remained at Thunderbird the rest of the summer.

When Ben’s mother heard that Wofford’s basketball team was playing at Georgia Tech on Tuesday, Dec. 1, she jumped at the chance to honor Tate’s memory and bring the boys some closure.

Sokolik and Tracy Dankberg, another camp mom, contacted Wofford assistant coach Dustin Kearns and arranged to have the boys attend Wofford’s practice the night before the game and meet the team. The boys will attend the game in Midtown and sit behind the Wofford bench.

“I’m excited for the boys to meet the Wofford basketball team next week because they will get to see their perspective of Jeremiah and share their time with him with his teammates,” Sokolik said. “Especially since they were the last ones to see him alive. The kids are thrilled to go.”

In total, 36 people, including five Camp Thunderbird representatives, will attend the game in memory of Tate. It will be the first time since the summer that the entire cabin has been together.

Ben said he talked with Tate about watching him play for Wofford. Had he not drowned, Ben said, his cabin would have relished the chance to see him play Tech.

“I think Jeremiah would be really proud and happy that we are representing him and Wofford at the game,” Ben said. “He was the best counselor I’ve ever had.”

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