On Tuesday, Jan. 24, Charlotte FC hosted a Celebration of Life ceremony in honor of Anton Walkes, a 25-year-old team defender who recently died in a boating accident.
At approximately 3 p.m., Walkes' family, friends, teammates and loved ones walked onto the Bank of America field to recognize Walkes's impact.
As black covered the pitch, Charlotte FC players wore their minted No. 5 jerseys, honoring Walkes' number.
Walkes' mother, Kelly; his father, Lee; his partner, Alexis; his daughter, Ayla; his sister, Alarna; and his brother, Anderson, were all greeted with hugs as everyone walked before them.
The ceremony began with Charlotte FC announcer Eric Krakauer greeting the attendees.
"Whether you knew Anton well, merely exchanged brief pleasantries or simply observed from a distance, you recognized in him the attributes that shaped a beloved figure," Krakauer said.
Krakauer acknowledged the thousands of social media posts honoring Walkes, showing how loved he was worldwide, not just in the soccer community.
Following Krakauer's introduction, Dr. James Howell, a Myers Park United Methodist Church senior pastor, approached the stage to share healing words and prayers.
"In losing him, we realize that we are all vulnerable and fragile, even the fittest among us. Remind us [God] to always be gentle to everyone, merciful and kind," said Howell.
Governor Roy Cooper could not attend the ceremony but shared his condolences in a video speech.
"Anton will be missed deeply, but I know his legacy will continue to live on," said Cooper.
Cooper shared he was fortunate enough to be one of the 50,000 fans to see Walkes play in the Charlotte FC match versus Chelsea FC earlier this summer.
Cooper recognized Walkes for representing Charlotte well, playing with great skill and respect.
The Commissioner of Major League Soccer Don Garber took the stage following the video.
"We are a league where players are more than just players. They care about each other, not just as devoted teammates, but as partners that support and love each other on and off the field," Garber said.
Garber believes that the fans shall remember Walkes every time the clock strikes the five-minute mark in every soccer match.
Concluding his speech, Garber related the life of Anton to the expression, "Only the good die young."
"While there's no life without death, there's something so tragic when a young man with so much life to live passes," Garber said.
Before Anton arrived in the United States, Walkes played for Portsmouth Soccer Club and Tottenham Hotspur FC in the United Kingdom.
Both teammates and coaches shared their sympathy through video remarks since they could not attend.
Before being selected by Charlotte FC, Walkes spent three seasons with Atlanta United, including their inaugural season.
While getting used to the American feel in Atlanta, Walkes met his best friend, Muhammad Khalifa.
Khalifa approached the stage in tears. He said he regretted not picking up Walkes' phone call for the last time.
"God works in mysterious ways," Khalifa said.
Khalifa celebrated all the good that Walkes had done for him and thanked him for all the memories he will now cherish for the rest of his life.
"You are loved by so many, brother. I'm sorry this happened to you," Khalifa said.
Following Khalifa, Andre Shinyashiki, a teammate of Walkes at Charlotte FC, shared his memories.
Shinyashiki mentioned that Walkes was a teammate and friend that everyone hoped to have. He brought the crowd into laughter and emphasized the funny moments Walkes brought into his life.
"I remember walking into Report Day in January and seeing Anton already getting his blood exams done," Shinyashiki said. "We crossed eyes, smiled and we both started laughing. No words were said, but I knew what he was thinking. 'This fat Brazilian hasn't done a single thing in the offseason. He's about to be 18% body fat.'"
The joyous Walkes memories he brought to all lives lingered throughout the Queen City.
"As anyone who's ever met him knows, Anton will always be there. And he'll be there for all of you and us," said Khalifa.