More than 1,000 mourners turned out to pay final respects to Charles Latta last week. Latta, 67 -- the father of former York Comprehensive High and UNC basketball star Ivory Latta, now a professional in the WNBA -- was killed in a car wreck July 31.
There was a bitter public airing of hurt feelings and some anger directed at the York school board in the days between the wreck and the funeral service after the school district denied a request from the Latta family to hold the funeral in the high school school gym, known locally as the “Cougar Dome.” Despite impassioned pleas from community members and public officials, including the mayor of York’s and a member of York County Council, the district cited a policy that such requests will only be considered for current students and employees and stuck to that policy.
It’s apparent why the family and others wanted to say their farewells in the Cougar Dome, where the Lattas have a deep connection. It is understandable emotions were still raw when the school district had to deny the family request due to its policy. That’s especially true in a tight-knit community that just lost one of its beloved leaders.
Any lingering anger or resentment took a backseat when Charles Latta’s funeral was held at West End Baptist Church in Rock Hill. A native of McConnells, just outside of York city limits, he was active in church leading a Bible study and youth ministry. He was a Sunday school teacher.
A former semi-pro baseball and lifelong athlete and local sports booster, Latta coached the Carolina Stompers Girls Basketball and McConnells Bulldogs Baseball teams. He was known as a mentor and, along with his wife and the rest of the family, a neighbor who helped others in need. Finding a home at Christmastime for an evicted family and buying shoes for children who otherwise would go without are just a couple of the examples of how Charles and his family projected an aura of love and caring.
He walked the walk. Anyone with that kind of legacy leaves a hole in their community when they pass on.
And that’s not to say the school district was wrong to uphold its policy. It could not have been easy, but without time to call an emergency school board meeting to consider making an exception, defaulting to its stated policy was really the only choice. The district has an obligation to treat everyone equally.
Is it a flawed policy? Perhaps. Many members of the community said they think it is. Now that the district and school board members have weathered the storm of criticism, there is always the opportunity to revisit the policy. A public hearing to allow residents to go on the record about the policy would provide useful testimony. There may or may not be other information, such as any legal issues, for the board to consider as well.
Regardless, the York and McConnells communities will miss someone who made a difference. When the period of grieving has passed, we hope residents will remember the best way to honor the legacy of Charles Latta: Follow his example.