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Bearcat Nation mourns star athlete who died in car crash

More than 150 classmates, friends and relatives gathered at Dietz Field Thursday night to remember Elyja Kieshaun Gibbs, a star of Hendersonville High School's football and baseball teams who died in a single-vehicle crash in Transylvania County earlier in the day.

The State Highway Patrol confirmed the fatality on Thursday. Troopers were dispatched at 9:38 a.m. to a single-vehicle single-occupant crash on U.S. 64 in Transylvania County near Crab Creek Road, the agency said. "The driver exceeded a safe speed, lost control of the vehicle and crossed the center line," the SHP said in a statement. "The vehicle traveled off the left shoulder of the roadway striking a tree and came to rest down the embankment."

Elyja's mother, Altavise Gibbs, confirmed the fatality in a Facebook post around 1:30 p.m. Thursday in which she asked that friends give the family time before contacting them by phone or text.

"My son Elyja died in a car accident," the post said. "We found him this morning. Please give us time to grieve and please keep us in your prayers."

Classmates, teachers, friends and others congregated on the 10-yard-line of the football field to honor No. 10, pray, comfort one another, light candles in his memory and release Bearcat red and white balloons.

ElyjaGibbsElyja Gibbs shown in photo from WLOS in 2021."Our hearts are heavy as the district mourns the loss of Elyja Gibbs, a young man who attended Hendersonville High School," the school system's central office said in a statement. "We are deeply saddened by this loss.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Elyja's family at this difficult time. School social workers, school counselors and other staff are available at Hendersonville High School to talk with students, staff and families and to provide support during this difficult time."

On Thursday night, on the football field where Gibbs had many moments of glory, Bearcats prayed, hugged one another and shared memories of Elyja. They lighted candles in his memory and let go of balloons they had held in their fist. Carried by a stout breeze, the balloons floated swiftly over the goalpost, over the scoreboard, into the darkening sky — a "Hail to the Red and White" salute to Elyja Kieshaun Gibbs.

The junior was a popular player on the football team over the past couple of seasons as quarterback, and was known for overcoming his partial deafness. Both the Times-News and WLOS-TV featured Gibbs for his focus and determination.

"I was very shy before because I thought it was a disability and I thought people were going to think of me different, so I never told anybody," Gibbs, who also played baseball for Bearcats, told WLOS during the 2021 football season.

His coach that year, Jim Sosebee, said Gibbs overcame his partial deafness by paying attention and reading cues.

"He's a really good lip-reader so I try to make sure I'm in front of him when I talk," he said, adding that Gibbs had grown more confident as the season wore on. "You can see that happening already. You can tell he's going to be a leader."

HHS principal Bobby Wilkins said Gibbs had not been enrolled at HHS since last November. Authorities notified the school of his death.

"Kids are just hearing about him because they just found him his morning," he said. "They called us and told us about it beause he was on our football team this year. He got hurt early and didn’t play for us for a while."

Students were upset the hear news, Wilkins said, and school counselors were available to listen to and comfort Gibbs's classmates.

"We're taking care of them," he said.