Funeral service celebrates drowned athlete’s life

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – Corey McKenzie wore a black suit. His tie was striped — black and white — and his hands, clad in white gloves, were folded on his chest. In his left arm, he held a Bible.

At his funeral Saturday, a dozen floral arrangements flanked the gray casket. And except for the faint sounds of weeping, the room at Calvary Chapel was still.

Family and friends, classmates and teachers assembled to pay tribute to the Boyd Anderson High School sophomore who drowned this month during a cross country running meet in Davie. The avid athlete, son and brother was 15.

Childhood friends shared stories about his days as a safety patrol officer at North Lauderdale Elementary School and as a Cub and Boy Scout. His teammates spoke of his dedication to school and sports.

Through his school years, Corey played many sports — football for the Lauderdale Lakes Vikings, volleyball at Lyons Creek Middle School and soccer at North Lauderdale Elementary.

“He would tell me that school was the most important thing,” said junior varsity football teammate Ladarius Cunningham. “What I’ll miss most are his smiles, his responsibility.”

In the pews, Ladarius sat with about two dozen other members of Boyd Anderson’s football team. Runners from the school’s cross country squad and cheerleaders also attended, most wearing the school colors of orange and black.

Jordan DaCosta, who met Corey when both were in third grade, spoke proudly of his friend’s determination to excel in everything he did.

“Corey knew exactly what he wanted out of life, what college he wanted to go to,” DaCosta said. “Corey was the smartest young person I ever knew.”

The boy’s mother, Wanda Smith-McKenzie, wept quietly as she stood before her son’s casket. Then, with the help of relatives, she somberly lowered the lid. She turned around, and returned to her seat in the front pew next to Corey’s older brother, Jay.

Other speakers at the funeral service described Corey as a devout Christian who was passionate about music, health and fitness and the Green Bay Packers.

Relatives and friends laughed when relative Marcus Skinner spoke of McKenzie’s taste for fried chicken.

“Angels love chicken wings,” Skinner said. “Corey’s last lap, I know he ran into the arms of the good one.”

An autopsy determined that Corey drowned in the Davie lake where his body was found Sept. 11. He had gone missing the previous day during an afternoon cross country meet at Vista View Park. Broward County Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Perper said the boy may have suffered heat exposure during the five-kilometer race, jumped in the lake to cool off and either passed out or drowned.

At the memorial, the congregation paid tribute by singing several hymns, including He Knows My Name, I Can Only Imagine and Loving Arms.

Corey, who attended Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale on Sundays and for Wednesday evening high school ministry meetings, was devoted to learning the Bible, said Mike Leger, the high school ministry’s pastor. He also belonged to a Bible study group at Boyd Anderson that met during lunch period.

“There is peace although this hurts,” Leger said. “There is no doubt we know where Corey is.”

The clergyman interrupted his eulogy to ask mourners to call out one word that would describe Corey.

“Determined,” one person said.

“Gentle,” another said.

“Peaceful.”

“If you look at Corey, he radiated peace with those beautiful eyes,” Leger said.

More voices came from the pews:

“Humble.”

“Bright.”

“Winner.”

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