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Jordan Hillis: A friend for many
A memorial fund has been established under the names of John and Sara Barron at Wells Fargo in Colusa.
Colusa County Sun-Herald
In life, Jordan Hillis brought his friends together. In death, he brought a community together.
"His relationships with people meant more to him than anything else," Colusa High basketball coach Marty Remmers said.
Hillis was a star basketball player, his favorite color was green, he loved the hip-hop group The Starting Six, and his smile, people said, was always shining.
Many Colusa High students wore green shirts and pins, with a green paper flower and a photo of Hillis, at school on Monday.
After the final bell, dozens of students gathered together at the site of the crash on Lonestar Road, looking at the place where they lost a friend Friday evening.
The accident also sent another student, junior Kyle Stacey, to the hospital. He is expected to return to school this week.
Hillis was on his way to cheer on his brother, John Barron, a junior varsity football player, and his friends on the varsity team, as they took on county-rival Pierce High.
Hillis was a basketball and baseball player, and was a regular in the stands at other sports where he cheered on the RedHawks.
About a 150 students met for an impromptu candlelight vigil late Friday, and many returned Saturday night to share stories with each other, to be there for each other as Hillis was so often there for them.
Many of Hillis' friends stopped by his house to visit his mother, Sara Barron, throughout the weekend.
More than 30 people, including his girlfriend, Ashley Ornbaun, and his younger brother, John, worked Sunday afternoon at a fundraising car wash which saw an endless stream of cars throughout the day.
The outpouring of support demonstrated just how many lives his touched during the 17 years he was alive.
"When we had a staff meeting (Monday) morning, every teacher in there has had Jordan at least once in their high school career so we all know him," Colusa High Principal Darren Brown said. The nature of a small town, and Hillis' lifelong connection with so many students, brought everything to a halt at the high school when it opened on Monday.
Brown said teachers on their breaks and during prep periods helped other teachers who had Hillis in their classrooms.
Chaplains and counselors also were on hand to help as needed.
Many students spent most of the school day in the quad, the gym or at the marquee in front of the school sharing memories, hugs and support.
A special friend
A.J. Windsor met Hillis in second grade while playing on the same baseball team, the Cardinals, and the friendship grew closer over the years.
They played on the same Colusa Cowboys youth football team, too. Hillis, who was the quarterback, injured his knee, an injury which never fully healed. He wore a knee brace and the pain would flare up from time to time, but he never used it as an excuse, and he could still dunk.
"I'd always tell him that if it wasn't for his knee, he'd be able to fly," Windsor said.
The two were teammates on the Colusa High basketball team, which will retire Hillis' No. 12 jersey when the season begins.
Windsor, who still plays football, didn't play Friday because of his own knee injury. He was one of the first players to hear about Hillis' death when his mother broke the news to him while the rest of the team took the field for warm-ups.
"I just dropped, my body, my heart. I didn't want to believe it," he said.
Three days every week, Windsor would wake up at 4:30 a.m. and walk to Hillis' house and they would go to the gym to play morning basketball. He made the trip alone for the first time on Monday.
Just being around other people fighting through the same grief helps, he said.
"I think that makes it a lot easier, even the teachers know where we're coming from. Everyone knows, you could look at somebody and they know, they'll just hug you. They know what's going on. It's easier to relate to everyone, everyone is sitting in the quad and it's good to just be around people that miss him just as much as you," Windsor said.
Mattie Myers remembers Hillis as somebody who went out of his way to make others happy.
"If you needed a hug, he was the guy to give you a hug. If he saw there was anything wrong with you, if your Facebook status sounded sad, he would send you a text," Myers said.
Some remember him as somebody who acted as a mediator and forced his friends to get along.
"There were times when me and Mattie (Myers) wouldn't talk and Jordan would be put in the middle of it, just because we were so close growing up together. He was the one person who could always bring you back together no matter what happened," Mackenzie Bressler said.
Like many students, senior Andrew Rodriguez coped by keeping himself busy all weekend, visiting the Hillis family and working at the car wash on Sunday.
Rodriguez, a running back on the varsity team, was on the football field in Arbuckle when he heard the news, and it hit him hard. He had a special connection with Hillis. Like Windsor, Hillis was a part of his life from a young age.
"I knew him since I was 5; he moved in next door to me on Third Street. He was my first friend and I was his first friend. We grew up together," Rodriguez said.
Though the two sometimes drifted into different circles of friends as they got older, they always shared a special bond.
"I still counted him as a brother," he said.
Setting an example
Hillis wasn't perfect.
He and six other basketball players were removed from the RedHawks basketball team in January after being identified on a cellphone video at a party where alcohol was present.
In the months since the incident, teachers and coaches saw Hillis make changes to ensure he could be back on the court for a full senior season, Colusa High Vice Principal Mike West said.
He was still the ever-smiling, fun-loving jokester, but he began to take his responsibilities as a student athlete more seriously.
"When you're an athlete, you're very visible and everyone looks at you — whether you deserve it or not — as being a role model," West said.
The wake-up call was apparent in his classwork and on the baseball diamond where West saw first-hand Hillis' athletic ability and growing maturity.
He was confident, aggressive and coachable on the field, West said.
"You want somebody who is going to try to get better every day and that's why it was a lot of fun to have him out there," West said.
Remmers brought Hillis up to the varsity team as a sophomore where he enjoyed immediate success, scoring 12.5 points a game.
"I met with him between sophomore and junior year and told him that, 'You're the kid I want to build the program around.' And it wasn't even necessarily centered around basketball, it was centered around the kind of person he was," Remmers said.
He was looking forward to seeing all the work Hillis put in during this offseason to get bigger, stronger and faster pay off on the basketball court.
A dangerous, but streaky three-point shooter, Hillis came into his own last year.
If Hillis wasn't shooting well, he could still take over the game with his defensive work, Remmers said.
"He was a great athlete but he wasn't a prototypical jock who just lived, breathed and died basketball. He loved the sport and he gave everything he had to it," Remmers said.
"But to me, from what I know of him, his relationships with people meant more to him than anything else."