COVINGTON, Va. – If you talk with anyone in the city of Covington, they'll tell you that the roar of Cougar pride is strong and boisterous. But as of Friday evening, while the pride was still strong the roar was not quite as loud. The school and community were shocked to hear of the sudden death of assistant football coach William "Boo" Stewart.
"He coached running backs and linebackers, and did a good job with us, and his attributes as a person were just outstanding," said Chris Jones, the school's assistnat principal and head football coach.
Stewart spent nearly a decade in Bath County before returning to his alma mater to be an assistant coach alongside his lifelong friend Darren Venable, who considered Stewart a brother.
"'Thirty-six' is what we called him," said Venable.
"That was his football number and he loved Jerome Bettis and that's why he wore 36, and from Hightower Park to Burton Field and Little League, he really was a community guy."
To the players, Stewart was more than a coach, he was a mentor, and in running back Sean Smith's case -- a godfather.
"He was the most wonderful man. You would love him if you met him," Smith said.
"He was the type of person that you would just come to love the first time you met him, the first time you have a conversation with him," said Smith.
"He was kind of always there to push me, help me take that extra step when I was kind of nervous," said quarterback Simon Gibson.
Stewart's death comes on the heels of another tragedy in the Cougar community. Melvin Persinger served as an assistant for the Covington junior varsity girls basketball team and coached Little League ball for over two decades before he died in late March.
"This news just took us to our knees both times. So it's just been really rough for our kids and for our staff," said athletics director Charity Hale.
Covington, now a community in healing, not only is mourning two coaches but two men who shaped the lives of hundreds on a field, a court and in life.
"These are the moments when you really band together, you mourn together and you grieve together and you really find out what the Cougar family is all about," Hale said.