SouthLake Christian will honor fallen teammate Cernuto with play, patch
by Cliff Mehrtens

The SouthLake Christian Academy girls basketball team has dedicated this season to former teammate Jennifer Cernuto.

Cernuto, who was a team captain and graduated with honors last June, was killed in an automobile accident July 1 on I-77 near Mooresville.

The Eagles will wear a colorful patch portraying Cernuto’s jersey No. 3 on their uniforms. They’ve also set up a similar display at the scorer’s table for home games.

“Jennifer had a high impact, not on just one or two players, but to all of us on the team,” SouthLake Christian coach Terry Batts said. “She made every kid feel like they were part of the team.”

Last week, about 125 people, including Cernuto’s family, gathered to honor her at a dedication dinner at the school.

The Eagles will carry Cernuto’s No. 3 jersey to every game, and Batts said the plan is to retire the jersey at season’s end.

“The fact that this season is dedicated to Jen is a true honor,” said point guard Lauren Shanks, a senior. “She has meant so much to SouthLake’s program for so many years, but even more, she has meant the absolute world to every girl and every coach.

“Her mere presence in the room just made it seem so much brighter with that beautiful smile of hers that I know no one could ever forget. She was a genuinely beautiful girl, truly inside and out. Her influence could never be forgotten.”

Before the accident, Cernuto had recently returned home from a mission trip to Peru with 28 other SouthLake Christian seniors.

Batts said that he named three captains at different times last season, but the first one he named was Cernuto.

He recalled Cernuto coming to him once, wanting to give up her starting position to a player she thought would help the team more.

Batts and other Eagles loved the way Cernuto played aggressive defense, always willing to accept a challenge.

“She was truly a special person,” Batts said. “She always had a smile on her face. She was always encouraging others. In a way, this has turned into a positive for our team.”

Center Bri Mack, a senior, said Cernuto’s influence was huge both on and off the court.

“The most vivid basketball memories that convey Jen’s meaning to our team and myself are of Jen’s exceptional defense throughout her senior year,” Mack said. “Jen had mastered everything there was to know about effective defense. In basketball, defensive players usually don’t get any glory, but Jen is still a symbol of hard work and great basketball IQ for our team.

“Jennifer was the perfect example of hard work and leadership. Though she didn’t always know, our team admired her contribution to our team in a way that is inexplicable.”

Batts said that last Jan. 3, after a practice, Cernutto walked to center court and asked if he would write college letters of recommendation for her.

He did, to Wake Forest, Villanova and High Point, among others.

Last week, he dug out those letters to read at the dedication dinner. He said the words rang true 11 months later, and will for a long time.

“More so than wins and losses, Jennifer was someone I truly knew,” he said. “Just a very special person.”