Tears turned to smiles and silly dances Sunday at a fundraiser for the family of the late Ereck Plancher, a former Lely High School star football player.
The goal of the fundraiser was to help his parents, Enock and Gisele Plancher of Naples, with funeral costs.
The event hosted by Stan’s Idle Hour Restaurant on Goodland raised not only money, but also the spirits of the friends and family members of Plancher, who died Tuesday following a workout with his team at University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Friends and family members estimate as many as 2,000 guests will attend a memorial service in honor of the 19-year old Plancher at the Lely auditorium on Saturday, March 29. They anticipate members of the UCF football team, Lely High School students and staff, Lely graduates and Plancher’s large extended family.
Although many of Plancher’s immediate family members didn’t attend Sunday’s fundraiser, several friends, Plancher’s girlfriend, Noelle Nuzzi, 18, and his cousin, Sanchez Faugue, 18, attended.
Plancher’s friends and family described him not only as a star running back and overall strong athlete, but also as religious, hard-working, and a family-oriented young man who took his younger brother, Edwin, 10 with him everywhere he could.
They said they relied on their faith, made stronger by the way Plancher lived, to get through a difficult week.
“Personally, I think when it’s your time to go, you go … Ereck was almost the same age as me but I looked up to him. I think God just brought him down for a little while and then brought him back up,” Faugue said.
Stan Gober, owner of Stan’s restaurant, announced the fundraiser Thursday during an event at the Marco Marriott.
“They were roasting my dad (Stan Gober) and celebrating the things he’s done … he wasn’t even thinking about himself. He announced that we’d have this benefit and it just took off,” said his youngest son, Steve Gober.
Before the event began in the afternoon, Steve Gober said donations from Marco residents already totaled $600.
Throughout the event on Easter Sunday, donations large and small came pouring in. The three-hour event averaged nearly $1,000 per hour with 50/50 raffle sales and donations.
The Gobers said they weren’t close to the Plancher family, but they have several Lely football players in the family, including Michael, 17, and twins Ryan and Dylan, 15.
“I couldn’t help but think, what if it were one my sons,” Steve Gober said.
“(This event) is not necessarily going to help that much. Money doesn’t solve anything, but hopefully we’ll make things a little better by giving the family our support,” Goodland resident Mike Calow said.
Friends, family and the community have nothing but good words to say about Plancher, who was an honor roll student in high school and college.
“He could play any position on the field. That’s how smart he was,” Lely defensive line coach Stavros Giarimoustag said.
Nuzzi described Plancher as a “perfect” boyfriend.
“He was always doing the right thing, laid-back, a good student. He never cursed. He brought me to church with him on Sundays. He was more dedicated to school than I was … I wasn’t into college for a while, but he inspired me,” Nuzzi said.
Cheyenne Pickett, 17, a friend of the Nuzzi and Plancher families, won one of the 50/50 raffles and donated about $500 in winnings back to the Plancher family.
When Nuzzi and her friends, Alexis Ricci, 18, and Kelsey Broccolo, 18, first arrived, they shed a couple of tears while remembering Plancher, but soon were able to enjoy the benefit.
The trio took to the stage with some encouragement by emcee Jeff Hilt.
Within seconds they were smiling and dancing along, flapping their arms as if they were wings to Stan Gober’s song and dance, The Buzzard Lope.
“My friends have been doing something with me every day. They’ve been very supportive. This is great to see the whole community here supporting the family,” Nuzzi said.
Contact Kelly Farrell at firstname.lastname@example.org