Community mourns teen’s death

Published 5:35 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rising Pelham High School senior Carson Sumpter raises a spirit stick given to him by his classmates during an October 2010 pep rally at the school. Sumpter passed away July 12. (File)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Employees at Pelham High School and Westwood Baptist Church are sharing fond memories of a rising PHS senior who passed away July 12 after a yearlong battle with bone cancer.

Carson Sumpter, 17, who was a drummer in the PHS marching band and routinely participated in the Westwood Baptist Church music ministries, died at about 9:40 a.m.

PHS Director of Bands Jeff Burnside called Sumpter the “epitome of a perfect band student,” and said he was one of the best musicians he had ever taught.

“He has been playing drum set since he was in Valley Elementary. We had been looking forward to getting him at Pelham for a long time,” Burnside said. “He was a model band student.”

Over the past year, Sumpter’s classmates held several fundraisers to help his family offset the cost of his treatment, and rallied to support the Sumpter family after learning of Carson’s diagnosis, Burnside said.

“Carson announced that he was fighting cancer during band camp last year, and he asked that the kids’ prayers and support,” Burnside said. “The kids did really well. They made T-shirts, bracelets, everything to help him.”

During an October 2010 pep rally, the PHS junior class presented Sumpter with a spirit stick signed by every member of the class shortly before the school’s football victory over Thompson High School.

“He had a great work effort, a really good attitude and he had a positive outlook about everything. No matter how bad things got, he was always positive,” Burnside said.

Kevin Derryberry, a musician and worship leader at Westwood Baptist, said Sumpter had an “unbelievable spirit,” and said he was “always upbeat and full of hope.”

“Carson actually played during the worship service two Sundays ago. That was his last actual time to play here on this Earth,” Derryberry said. “From looking at him, you would have never known it would be a week away.”

Derryberry said Sumpter was a “big part” of Westwood’s ministries, and said the teen possessed “a lot of God-given talent.” Derryberry and more than 20 of Sumpter’s family members and friends gathered in Sumpter’s hospital room July 11 to pray, sing and play guitar.

“We surrounded him and sang, and basically celebrated his life up to that point,” Derryberry said. “Two Sundays ago, Carson told me ‘I got to do what I love every night this week. I got to play music.’

“If you can wrap your life up and say you’ve done what you love, you haven’t missed out on anything,” Derryberry added. “The minute he stepped into heaven, I know he was doing what he loved.”

Westwood will hold a memorial service to honor Sumpter at its Alabaster campus on Alabaster Boulevard July 14 at 6 p.m. in the church’s main sanctuary.

“Right now, he is not hurting at all,” Derryberry said. “We will see him again one day.”