Hundreds of people from the Northwest High School community—and from across Montgomery County—gathered at Cedarbrook Community Church in Clarksburg on April 27 to pay their respects and say goodbye to 2018 graduate Tray Dawkins. The 18-year-old, who was a member of the Jaguars football and track and field programs, was the victim of a drive-by shooting in Germantown on the evening of April 17 and was pronounced dead at Adventist HealthCare Germantown Emergency Center shortly thereafter.
“Tray was an amazing kid and touched a lot of lives,” said longtime Northwest football coach Mike Neubeiser. “The biggest thing Tray did for us was smile every day; that greeting he would give you. He was such a positive kid, a happy kid. People loved him; teachers loved him. He was one of those kids who was just fun to be around. Every time you saw Tray, it was a good day.”
Dawkins had a breakout senior season on the track, scoring in three events—55-meter hurdles, 800m relay and high jump—to help the Jaguars to their fifth consecutive indoor state title over the winter and in the 110m and 300m hurdles during Northwest’s sweep of the outdoor state championship last spring. But his impact extended far beyond his athletic prowess, Neubeiser and Jaguars track and field coach Robert Youngblood agreed—Dawkins’ evolution during high school was the perfect example of hard work paying off, both on the track and in the classroom.
He’d come a long way since his freshman year, during which he struggled with academics, Neubeiser said. School was difficult for him and he was hanging around kids who didn’t care much about attending classes. But when Dawkins graduated last spring, he was on the honor roll. He was self-driven and continued to move in a positive direction in the year following his high school graduation, taking classes at Montgomery College, with his sights set on a four-year degree.
“He became such a huge factor in our program last year, and in us winning states,” Youngblood said. “He set the tone for a lot of our guys and he inspired a lot of (kids).”
The familial atmosphere perpetuated by Neubeiser, Youngblood and the Northwest community in general has been on display as students past and present have come together to support one another in the wake of this tragedy. The Jaguars track and field teams have dedicated this season to their former teammate and are wearing red bracelets in his memory.
Coming together to compete at the Lanham Rebel Relays one day after Dawkins’ death, Jaguar seniors Sharwin Vyapuri, and Endalk Makonnen, sophomore Eric Kim and freshman Darius Lorfils qualified for nationals en route to winning the 440m shuttle hurdle relay.
There are kids walking the halls of Northwest these days that are young versions of Dawkins, Neubeiser said—many of them were at his funeral. Hopefully this tragic loss will help change their course.
“This is definitely something that gets your attention,” Neubeiser said. “I would hope that it will change some lives. I know it was a wakeup call even for me. I came home (from the funeral) and held my kids a little longer. I called my parents and told them I love them. Life is short, you can’t take it for granted. There are at-risk kids (at Northwest) and you talk to them over and over and hope they make good decisions. There are ways to get out of bad areas of Germantown. They can go to college.”