Baltimore City

‘It felt like he was home’: Mervo High hosts memorial service for late Baltimore student, football player Elijah Gorham

A man dressed in black ran onto the football field Saturday wearing the Mustangs’ white, blue and gold No. 7 jersey like a cape and carried the urn to a stage set up in the end zone.

Teal smoke emanated from the corner. The public address announcer shouted his name. The crowd erupted.


Elijah Gorham was on the football field at Mervo one last time.

The 17-year-old Gorham, a wide receiver at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School in East Baltimore, died at a hospital Oct. 11, nearly a month after he was injured during a football game after falling to the ground in the end zone. The state medical examiner’s office listed his cause of death as cardiac arrest, multisystem organ failure, a traumatic brain injury and accidental trauma.


Gorham’s family, teammates and coaches, along with classmates, football players from other Baltimore high schools and city leaders, gathered for a memorial service at the place where Gorham was perhaps best known and most at home: Mervo’s football field. At least 100 people attended — a sign, speakers said, of the impact the young man had made.

“Dear Elijah, I cannot believe we are here celebrating your life and crying at the same time,” said his teammate and friend, Dewaun Harvey, who began the remembrances. “This is so shocking and it seems like a really bad dream we’re all trying to wake up from.”

Harvey was among those who reflected on playing youth football with Gorham and growing up to play varsity in high school. Sterling Thomas, a teammate and friend of Gorham’s, said they played together for the Northeast Chargers. A linebacker, Thomas reminded everybody that, despite his small size, that’s the position Gorham played before coaches realized he had the soft hands of a receiver.

“They used to call me Ray Lewis and they used to call him little Terrell Suggs,” Thomas recalled, referencing the two Ravens greats.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, a Mervo alumnus, encouraged the crowd to support Gorham’s family with the same vigor with which they supported the wide receiver when he scored touchdowns on Friday nights.

Another theme emerged during the remembrances: Gorham was a go-getter who was quick on the uptake. This was true on the football field, with his entrepreneurial endeavors — a car washing operation, a clothing hustle, his photography business — and in the classroom. And it began at an early age.

“Elijah was around 8 and 1/2 years old when I met him. The whole time, I ain’t never seen a boy with that much fire, that much passion for football,” said Pierre Foster, who coached the Northwood Rams youth team. “As a man you look at him and say, ‘Wow, a kid got this much passion for the sport?’ He really loved the game.”

Gorham’s sister, La’Shea Butler,encouraged his mother, Shantres Shaw, to take comfort in knowing that his spirit would be ever present. All she had to do, Butler said, was go up to his room and look at all his football memorabilia.


Patrick Nixon, athletic director and head football coach at Mervo, recalled fielding many requests from mothers and their eighth graders to get into the vocational school and play for his football team. The parents promised their boys were up for the rigors of the academics and athletics. Not all succeeded.

Nixon said Gorham’s mom made a similar pitch. The coach took one look at the boy — 5-feet-2, about 120 pounds — and wondered if he should pester the principal for one more spot at the school. He did, unsuccessfully. But he told Gorham and his mom that if he excelled at another school, they could consider him as a transfer student. He got the grades and it paid off: He made it to Mervo.

“Ever since Elijah became one of ours, a Mustang, he has done nothing but do everything that he said and mom said he was going to do,” Nixon said.

The man who carried Gorham’s urn was his older brother, Donta Allen, 21, who described it as an honor. It was Allen, after all, who inspired his younger brother to play football.

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“It meant a lot,” Allen said, though he had one more meaningful task Saturday.

Gorham’s last touchdown for the Mustangs came on a kickoff return, said his teammate and friend Deandre Ferguson, a senior slot receiver and kick returner. He was Gorham’s lead blocker on that play, which he’ll never forget.


Ferguson and some other Mustangs teammates, all donning their home jerseys, flanked Allen in a faux kick return formation. Allen wore his brother’s No. 7, the last time that number will be worn by a Mervo football player, according to Nixon.

The ball flew off the kicker’s foot, into the overcast October sky and into Allen’s hands. His blockers paved the way as he raced toward the end zone.

“He’s at the 50. The 40. 30 … He. Could. Go. All. The. Way,” Nixon’s voiced echoed over the PA system. “TOUCHDOWN Elijah Gorham!”

The crowd cheered. Ferguson said it felt like Gorham was there. Allen added that it would’ve meant something special to him. But it was Sterling, the linebacker, who summed it up.

“It felt like he was home,” he said.