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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Benefit Held for Stafone Jackson, Star Athlete and Swim Coach Who Drowned

Posted By on Tue, Sep 20, 2011 at 3:20 PM

click to enlarge Stafone Jackson, star athlete and student
  • Stafone Jackson, star athlete and student

ICHI Sushi on Mission Street will donate a percentage of dinner proceeds tonight to the family of Stafone Jackson, a 20-year-old graduate of Mission High School who tragically drowned while camping last month. 

According to news reports, Jackson died after swimming out to a island of rocks at the Union Valley Reservoir in North El Dorado. Jackson had volunteered as a swim coach with the Special Olympics while in high school.

Until his fatal accident, Jackson had truly beaten the odds: He grew up in the Potrero Hill housing projects while excelling in honors classes at Mission, which won him academic scholarships at UC Riverside.

"He defied all the odds," says Arnold Zelaya, his football and basketball coach at Mission High. "To get out of public housing to go to a UC, and it turns out you drown while you're camping -- it's really difficult." 

Greg Quintana, the head swim coach with the Special Olympics in San Francisco, says Jackson swam weekly during the January to June season for two years in a row. Jackson often swam freestyle with his head above the water in order to coach the other swimmers. 

"He's a very strong kid," Quintana says. "To find he'd drowned, I just found it shocking.... I don't remember his having a bad stroke." 

Quintana spoke at Jackson's funeral last month. Mission's Coach Zelaya also spoke, telling the story of a gifted football player who was far from a natural basketball player, yet had more hustle than anyone else on the team:

When we seemed to be allowing the championship to slip through our hands, in one awesome display of awkwardness, Stafone fell to his rear, got back up, grabbed an offensive rebound, and threw up the ugliest shot that I'd ever seen.  We watched it bounce off the backboard and go through the net as he was fouled. Stafone proceeded to throw up the ugliest freethrow I ever saw and bank that in. After that play, we never looked back and won our 2nd championship in three years. Stafone was a winner.

Zelaya says he wasn't surprised when Jackson decided against taking a scholarship to play football at Lewis and Clark in Portland, Oregon, and instead go to UC Riverside and play rugby. 'He was going to start something new, and he knew he was going to be good because he worked his butt off." 

Zelaya said all of Jackson's teammates made it back for the funeral, and donned their letterman jackets in his honor. 

Tonight at ICHI Sushi, 20 percent of sales will go to Jackson's family. 

"You'd be hard-pressed to find a better kid," Zelaya says. "I've worked with San Francisco kids for 19 years, and he was at the top of the list. That's what we should push all our San Francisco kids to be like." 

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Lauren Smiley


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