With only two weeks left in school, the South Shore community and many within the County were shocked to learn of the death of East Bay senior and Indians former starting quarterback Rex Ballenger Jr., 18.
The Apollo Beach resident was driving west on Big Bend Rd. in Gibsonton when his Saturn slammed into the back of a stopped tractor-trailer. Ballenger was not wearing a seatbelt at the time, according to a report by Trooper S.M. Nickel.
The accident left him with massive head injuries and he was taken to Tampa General Hospital. On May 19, East Bay High School administrators announced Ballenger’s death to students after the young athlete was taken off life support, said Scot Tipton East Bay High School athletic director.
On May 23, a memorial was arranged for Rex Lee Ballenger Jr., at Vance V. Vogel Park in Gibsonton just one day after two letters from colleges came to the Ballenger home pleased to tell Rex he had been accepted for the fall semester.
“He was one of the toughest individuals, pound for pound, I have coached,” said Brian Thorton who has been coaching football at East Bay High for the last 15 years and made Ballenger his starting quarterback three years ago.
Due to his size, the 5 ft., 9 in. quarterback was not what colleges want for their athletic program. But, according to Thorton, during a conference after the school was notified of the senior’s death, this was not the reason why Ballenger played the game.
“He wasn’t playing football to win a scholarship,” Thornton said. “I wish more athletes played like that.”
Ballenger’s No.10 Jersey was worn by his best friend and team mate Chaz Burrows during the recent spring football jamboree at Brandon High but Thorton is seeking to retire Ballenger’s jersey for good in honor of the player.
Besides his parents, Ballenger is survived by siblings John Watson, 21, and Jennifer Watson, 24.
For more information, please call the school at 671-5134.