SCHOLARSHIP AND MEMORIAL FOR JON WALTERS
A memorial service for Jon Walters has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Mariners Church of Irvine. The Walters family has requested that all water polo players in attendance wear their club or college team shirts.
In addition, USC has set up a Jon Walters Memorial Scholarship per the family’s wishes.
Contributions can be sent c/o Ron Orr, USC Heritage Hall. 3501 Watt Way, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0602
NEWPORT BEACH – In a display of seagoing solidarity, hundreds of friends, family members and former teammates gathered for a paddle-out ceremony on Sunday to pay tribute to Jon Walters, the 19-year-old water polo player and Newport Beach native who died last week. Though some were somber, many stayed positive as they celebrated the life of their fallen champ.
Walters was a USC freshman and a key player on the university’s NCAA champion water polo team. Before his college career, he was a standout athlete at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana. He died Wednesday at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana.
The cause of death has not yet been officially determined, but the family told the Register last week that Walters died from a heart attack after battling kidney failure and pneumonia.
As sunset approached on Sunday, so did the masses in support of the Walters family. The beach filled with surfers in black wetsuits and others wearing red representing Walters’ high school and college colors.
Walters’ brother James, 18, walked about receiving hugs everywhere he turned. Wearing his black-and-blue wetsuit, he greeted people and thanked them for their support.
“This isn’t a mourning. It’s a celebration of Jon’s life and all he accomplished,” James said.
James said his parents were going to be watching the paddle-out from a boat nearby. James and his siblings, Matt and Ali, paddled out.
The cool breeze and cold waves didn’t deter Walters’ loved ones from venturing into the water. Approximately 50 surfers paddled on their surfboards carrying flowers. They gathered in a circle to hold a moment of silence, pray, and splash and cheer for Walters. The flowers were thrown into the air, and those in the boat carrying Walters’ parents, Jacque and Bill, threw flowers alongside them before taking off.
Many looked down at the circle from Newport Pier. Others watched from the beach.
Linda Castel Blanco, 46, of Newport Beach said she and her family had known Walters for about 10 years. She said the water polo community was a close one, and Walters always made her son Will, 18, feel included when he started playing the sport.
“He was there for Will,” Castel Blanco said.
“He took him right in and he was just a good-hearted young man. Everyone just loved him. It’s really just devastating.”
After the paddle-out, Walters’ loved ones, though shivering and cold, stayed on the beach long after the sun had disappeared. They laughed, shared stories and took pictures.
“Everyone here had some connection to Jon. It’s incredible that there are all of these people here,” James said.
In the midst of the emotions – happy and sad – people wrote messages to Walters on a surfboard that was going to be kept by the Walters family.
The messages professed love, conveyed admiration and provided reassurance to Walters and his family.
“All strikers go to heaven,” said one message referring to Walters’ water polo position.
“You are the legend we all wanted to be,” said another.
Many of them used the same word for Walters: “champ.”
A memorial service for Walters is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday in the community center of Mariners Church in Irvine.
Walters’ sister, Ali, 24, said her brother would not have wanted sadness.
“Jon was the happiest and funniest guy. He would tell us we were being wussies for crying,” she said.