Jeff and Tricia Mercy didn’t know what to do after their son Lance died last May.
The coronavirus pandemic caused funerals to go virtual, and the Ellicott City parents didn’t know whether they wanted to have his body cremated or have a burial.
Then, as if the idea came from thin air, the Mercys knew what Lance would have wanted.
Five days after their 19-year-old son’s death, Jeff and Tricia Mercy went to the stadium at River Hill High School, where Lance had played dozens of football and lacrosse games, and spread some of his ashes on the field. About 100 people — friends, teammates and parents — also came to help spread his ashes, tell stories about Lance and mourn his loss.
One friend in attendance, Chris Meissner, was his roommate and fraternity brother at Florida State University, where Lance was a sophomore when he died. Meissner told Lance’s parents that afternoon for the first time about a deep conversation he had with Lance two months before his death.
It was the beginning of the pandemic, which caused some people to self-reflect about their own mortality, and Lance told Meissner if he died, he would want his ashes spread across a sports field.
“This is exactly what Lance would’ve wanted,” Tricia Mercy recalls Meissner telling her.
That love and passion of sports is why the Mercys have started a scholarship at River Hill High School in their son’s name. The Lance Christopher Mercy Scholar-Athlete Scholarship, an endowed award through the Community Foundation of Howard County, will give out a minimum of $1,000 every spring to a River Hill football or boys lacrosse senior who excels in the classroom.
The inaugural winner, who must play one of those two sports and have at least a 3.5 grade-point average, will be announced later this month.
“We wanted to do something in his memory,” Jeff Mercy said. “He grew up loving sports. His experiences in football and lacrosse molded him into the hardworking, high-character person he was, and we wanted to give back to the groups that helped him grow.”
Lance died May 14, 2020, in a single-car collision in Columbia. According to Howard County police, he lost control of his 2005 Honda Accord on the rainy night, and his car struck a tree on Harpers Farm Road approaching Route 108.
After his death, Tricia Mercy knew immediately she wanted to start a scholarship in Lance’s name. She contacted Dan Flynn at the Community Foundation of Howard County, who was able to quickly set up an online link for people to donate.
“A lot of the donations we received in that first month or so were from people in the River Hill community, families of kids who Lance played with and friends,” she said. “Lance touched a lot of people. We know that he meant a lot to his teammates.”
“We had people donating from every walk of our lives — work, community and family,” Jeff Mercy said. “To be able to do something and start to pay out a scholarship so quickly was really important to us. Having people come forward during the pandemic was really huge.”
At River Hill, Lance, a 2018 graduate, was a defender on the boys lacrosse team and a defensive lineman on the football team. Boys lacrosse coach Keith Gonsouland said Lance was the type of player who was “always doing the right thing.”
“Lance did everything a coach could ask of a player,” Gonsouland said. “He always gave maximum effort, both physically and mentally. He was committed to being the best teammate and lacrosse player he could be.”
In addition to the scholarship at River Hill, Lance’s fraternity brothers at Florida State also set up a scholarship in his name. The GoFundMe account has more than $8,000 in donations, and the annual $1,000 award will go to a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity every year.
“That meant a lot to us that they did that for Lance,” Tricia Mercy said.
While the grief of losing Lance was unfathomable, it wasn’t the first time the Mercys had to say goodbye to a child. Their fourth child, Dean, was born and died on Christmas Eve in 2002.
“We got to hold him briefly for a couple of hours,” Jeff Mercy said. “Having two sons beat us to heaven is a real challenge and struggle that we still try to understand. We know that God has a purpose. They’re both in heaven, which we can be thankful for, but we still miss them a lot.”
The Mercys have three other children. Two of them — Greta, 25, and Shane, 23 — are adults, but Nolan, 15, is a freshman at Glenelg High School, and he’s following in Lance’s footsteps athletically.
“Nolan is growing up to emulate his big brother, Lance,” Jeff Mercy said. “He’s a good student, and he loves to play football and lacrosse. We’re so proud of him for that.”