Family and friends gathered last Friday at Everly Funeral Home in Fairfax to say goodbye to Justin "Chad" Clements. The 1995 Centreville High grad and star athlete was killed, May 23, in a motorcycle accident in Bradenton, Fla.
"He had a ton of friends, and everyone really loved him a lot," said his brother Bryce, 21. "At least 150 people came to his funeral. His whole high-school baseball and basketball teams were there — people flew up from all parts of the country."
The tragedy cut short a promising life. Clements, 25, had a new job, said his mother LeEtta Adamson, and things were finally coming together for him. "He was enjoying life," she said. "Everything was falling into place for him. He was talking about going back to college in the fall and getting his degree; he had about a year left."
Instead came the crash. "He missed a turn and hit gravel," said his father, Ron Clements. "He was thrown off his bike and hit a fence and it crushed his internal organs."
Clements' roommate, Mike Morris, said Chad was wearing a helmet and traveling on a road he knew. "It was a shortcut between two major roads — probably about five minutes away from our house," he said. It happened around 9:15 p.m.; Morris said it was just starting to get dark.
"It was a 90-degree curve, and he completely missed it," he said. The Florida Highway Patrol notified Morris around 10 p.m. "I immediately went into denial," he said. "I dropped to my knees — I didn't want to believe it. He'd turned 25 two months ago."
Clements grew up in the Colchester Hunt community, played Southwestern Youth Association (SYA) baseball and later starred at Centreville High as a shortstop in baseball and a shooting guard in basketball. He was on the Wildcat varsity and was selected first team, All District, in both sports in his senior year.
"He was very sports-motivated and just a terrific kid," said his father. After high school, Clements went to Manatee Community College in Bradenton on a full scholarship, playing baseball there, too. Said Morris: "The neat thing is that they drafted 20 shortstops from all over the country, and he was the starting shortstop, his freshman and sophomore years."
Afterward, he played a semester of baseball at Radford University, but later underwent shoulder surgery for a partially torn rotator cuff and removal of bone spurs. Still, he got his shot at the Majors. In 1995, Clements was drafted by the New York Yankees.
"His favorite team, since he was 7, was the Yankees, and in SYA he played on the Yankees team," said his mother. "Then years later, he got a telegram signed by [Yankees owner] George Steinbrenner, telling him he'd been drafted by the Yankees. That was a special moment for him — the fulfillment of a dream."
Six years later, after rehabilitation for his shoulder injury, Clements played for the Chicago Cubs' minor-league, A team in Arizona in spring 2001. But, said his father, "He injured the same shoulder again, sliding into third, and that pretty well ended his playing career. In January, he moved to Bradenton and was going to enroll this summer at the University of South Florida in Sarasota to finish his degree in sports psychology."
He knew Morris from Centreville, where they'd met in summer 1997, and when he returned to Bradenton last winter, he shared a home with Morris and his wife. "He was the closest thing I've had to a brother," said Morris. "He had a great personality and always had a big smile on his face. And we had a lot of things in common — we played basketball and went fishing, and we'd sit and play PlayStation for hours."
He also said Clements never gave up his dream of someday playing professional baseball. "He had every intention of going back for spring tryouts, but didn't think his shoulder was ready," said Morris. "But he planned to try again." Now, he said, he and his wife comfort each other by talking about "all the good memories we have of Chad."
Clements' mother said his love of life made him special — "the twinkle in his eye, the bounce in his step." He'd recently begun a job with Trek Alliance, selling nutritional and health-awareness type products.
"He came up in April for training in Baltimore with his new company, and I visited him there for a few days, and he spent a few days here [in Centreville], too," said Adamson. "It was so nice to see him so excited about his new job."
She learned of his death, the day after the crash. "It was a shock — it's not the natural order of things," she said. [But] I believe everything happens for a reason — God has a plan." Still, she said, "It's the hardest thing I've ever dealt with in my whole life; the support of family, Chad's friends and our friends has meant a lot."
Clement's brother Bryce, a college student in Tennessee, said he and Chad played sports together and became especially close last year while sharing a home in Knoxville, Tenn. Brother Brad, 18, a senior at Robinson Secondary, recalled their backyard baseball games and how Chad helped him perfect his swing.
Brad said Chad was "the man to go to with girl problems." He was also a proud brother. After his death, said Brad, "I found out from friends that he bragged about Bryce and me — I never knew it." Calling Chad adventurous and carefree, he said, "He lived life as he wanted, and I don't think he had any regrets."
Brad recently found a card where Chad had written quotes he liked. "They were about making the most of the time you've got and enjoying it," he said. "One, about life ending prematurely, said, 'If there's a void, fill it with remembered joys.' It seems oddly appropriate."
Clements was impressed with Florida's beautiful ballfields so, in his memory, donations payable to SYA will go toward the SYA "Fields of Dreams." Send them to: SYA, P.O. Box 471, Centreville, VA 20122.