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The Butler Did It: Remembering one of our own

I was going to write about how honored I was that they had chosen me for their Community Service Award and how it was cool to see the house in Richmond Hill I lived in when I was a baby.But that changed, when I got a chilling call on my cell phone late Tuesday morning. It was Dan Martin, a colleague of mine who works at the New York Post. He asked me if I remembered George Jefferson, the former Automotive basketball standout. He said that he was dead.While details were sketchy, Jefferson was found by teammate Keydren Clark in his dorm room at St. Peter's College in Jersey City, N.J. Tuesday morning. The cause of death was unknown. He was just 20 years old."It's a total shock; he was just here 10 days ago and he refereed our annual Senior/Faculty game," said Jefferson's high school coach, Will Stasiuk. "I'm a better person to have gotten to know him. He was more than a student/athlete to me, he was almost like a nephew."It appeared, at least from everyone I talk to, that Jefferson had such a bright future in front of him. He was one of those success stories, like former St. John's standouts Ron Artest and Reggie Jessie, a guy who survived the tough Queensbridge Houses to earn a scholarship to college. He was a star at Automotive, a dominant player at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. Stasiuk, who is also the PSAL boys' and girls' soccer commissioner, told everyone he could how good Jefferson was, but because he played in the PSAL 'B' league, or perhaps because Automotive wasn't considered a basketball powerhouse, he was under recruited.But Bob Leckie took a chance; he saw beyond the uniform and beyond the league, and saw potential. Leckie maybe even saw a bit of himself in Jefferson, a fellow Queens native. He averaged 5 points and 1.8 rebounds per game as a freshman and after an injury-plagued sophomore season, he appeared in 16 games last year, averaging 3.3 points and 1.4 rebounds. According to Stasiuk, he was on track to graduate early and, because he had two years of eligibility remaining, Jefferson planned on getting his master's in business.I can't say that I talked to Jefferson a lot, maybe a handful of times, but he was one of our kids. One of the things that I pride myself on here at the TimesLedger is that we always try to keep up with our athletes when they go on to college and even beyond. Like their high school coaches, I get a sense of pride when I see they're doing well. Those are the stories and columns I enjoy writing, when a kid from Queens wins an NCAA tournament or is selected in the NBA Draft. Writing about the death of a college athlete is something you never want to do.I feel for Jefferson's family, who have the painful task of making funeral arrangements now a year away from planning a graduation party. I feel for his coaches, for Stasiuk and Leckie. Their relationship transcended basketball and both were father figures to Jefferson. Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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