Leroy Herman II said he was both surprised and happy when his son Victor called him Tuesday afternoon and asked if he would pick him up from Leonardtown High School for lunch. His son had never called him with such a request.
Victor Herman, a sophomore, died Wednesday after collapsing during the first quarter of his junior varsity basketball game at Great Mills High School.
The cause of death has not been determined. An autopsy report was expected Friday, but sources familiar with the case said it will not be released until next week because further testing is needed on Herman's heart.
"No matter what was going on, he could always come to me and talk, and I appreciated that, so when he called and wanted me to take him to lunch I thought something was wrong," Leroy Herman II said. "But he had just forgotten the money his mom had given him at home. So I signed him out on Tuesday for a lunch break, and we went to the new Wendy's. We had a little father-son chat.
"I wanted to make sure everything with him was on track. And then I took him back and signed him back in. That was the last time I got to each lunch with him.
"I don't know of any other time I've gotten a call to go and take any of my kids to lunch during a school day, but I think there was a message there."
Neither Herman nor his wife, Maria, were at Great Mills when their son collapsed because of a scheduling mix-up. The original game time was 6:30 p.m., but it began at 5.
It was approximately 5:17, just four minutes into the first quarter, when Victor Herman fell backward onto the court. The game was immediately halted, and a coach and a nurse performed CPR until medical assistance arrived, according to Lorraine Fulton, deputy superintendent for St. Mary's County public schools.
Herman was pronounced dead about two hours later after being taken by ambulance to St. Mary's Hospital.
"My wife was at her friend's house to pass the time until the game when she got the call," Leroy Herman II said. "One of his teammates called her from his cell phone.
"We're just at a loss right now for what happened and why. All I can tell you is that I think he was an excellent kid. I'm really proud of the time, and thankful for the time, I had to spend with him. The precious moments we shared is what's getting us all through this."
Coaches and crisis counselors met with Herman's teammates and members of Leonardtown's other winter sports teams Thursday and Friday. They also were available to the rest of the student body.
On Thursday, students and teachers showered Herman's locker with cards and notes, and a bulletin board was covered with white paper to serve as a second memorial site. The boys' junior varsity and varsity basketball teams presented the individual notes and the large memorial to the Herman family at their home in Hollywood on Thursday night.
Leonardtown Principal Robert Taylor bought black ribbons Thursday night and distributed them to each homeroom at school Friday. Without prompting, most students wrapped it around their student ID badges to honor Herman.
The girls' and boys' basketball teams, when they resume play, will wear black stripes on their uniforms. Plans for a memorial at the school will be finalized next week.
"Almost everyone I walked past today had a black ribbon on their ID badge, and that was very powerful," Vice Principal Joe Haggard said. "We're doing everything we can to help the students cope. Mainly, we're encouraging them to express themselves and their grief."
Herman's sister, Rosanna, is a junior at Leonardtown and a member of the varsity cheerleading team. She was 10 miles across town at Leonardtown for Thursday's varsity games when word reached one of the cheerleader's parents, who took her to the hospital.
The Hermans' oldest son, Leroy, is a 2002 graduate of Leonardtown and a freshman distance runner on the track and field team at Morgan State University. He was at school in Baltimore when his parents sent for him.
"The kids . . . it's really hardest on them," Leroy Herman II said.
To ease the pain, family and friends have been sharing stories of Victor, who was described as a people person who easily bonded with others.
"He was a nice person," said sophomore Eric Pence, also a member of the junior varsity team. "He was my best friend."
Friends said Herman was funny -- even silly at times -- and yet serious about his schoolwork. He maintained a 3.1 grade-point average while taking advanced classes and was a recipient of a Minds in Motion certificate, an academic award given to honor-roll athletes.
"He was always in class, always smiling," said senior Jason Estep, a varsity basketball player. "He never hurt anybody."
Junior Craig Pulliam, another varsity player, said, "The main thing he liked to do is play basketball. It was good to see that if he had to go away, that he went doing what he enjoyed the most."
There will be a viewing for Victor Herman from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday at Mattingly-Gardiner Funeral Home in Leonardtown. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Church of Christ, 44850 St. Andrews Church Rd., near the intersection of Routes 4 and 235 in California.
Staff writers Michael Amon and Theola Labbe' contributed to this report.