WASHINGTON — Inside a small brick church far removed the capital's more famous locales, a group of young men from the heartland stood tall behind a teammate Thursday as he mourned his mother's sudden passing.
The University of Kansas basketball team traveled halfway across the country to support sophomore forward Thomas Robinson at the memorial service in the city where he grew up.
His mother, Lisa Robinson, died last week of an apparent heart attack at age 43.
The Jayhawks arrived Wednesday, ahead of a blizzard that sent federal workers home early, closed streets and darkened neighborhoods around the region. It also threatened to cancel the Thursday morning service, but in the end caused only a short delay.
Before noon, the team's chartered bus parked on a slush-filled street amid drifts of snow and the players and coaches filed into the Antioch Baptist Church. They filled several pews.
The Rev. William H. Gibbs acknowledged the team's presence, noting that it had "come all the way from Kansas City," and asked its members to stand. The audience applauded. The NCAA approved a waiver that allowed the KU athletic department to pay for the team's travel to Washington and for the funeral expenses.
Inside, sunlight filtered through the windows, and blue and white tulips rested atop the casket. Sadness mixed with a quiet sense of joy. Babies squealed. At certain moments, soft laughter rippled across the room. And tears were shed.
The death of Robinson's mother hit doubly hard because it came on the heels of the burials this month of Robinson's grandmother and grandfather.
Each cut deeply into this tight-knit community of modest homes near the city's edge. Several women shook their heads in disbelief that tragedy could compound on one family so quickly.
Indeed, the sympathies of the 250 or so mourners who filled the chapel were also for Robinson's sister, Jayla. The 7-year-old — previous reports said she was 9 — is suddenly bereft of three mainstays in her young life.
But another is her brother, who's 19. And when mourners had a chance to speak about the Robinson children's mother, a family friend, smiling at Thomas, said, "Looking at you and the man you've become, she did a good job, a really good job."
Rev. Gibbs said that his heart "was very heavy for the children" because she had died so young. "If that's not enough to make you shake, I don't know what will."
But pointing toward the polished white casket, he said, "She's not here, she's with the lord," which elicited a chorus of approval from the audience.
Afterward, as the chapel emptied and the funeral-goers readied for the journey to the gravesite, three white doves were let loose. They soared into the now overcast sky.
"The wings of the soul," a mourner said.
A child exclaimed, "Wow! Look at them go!"
The Jayhawks returned to Lawrence after the funeral, but Robinson stayed behind with his sister.
Robinson is expected to return today with KU director of basketball operations Barry Hinson and is expected to play against Kansas State on Saturday. Jayla will remain in Washington as arrangements for her future are made. The NCAA has allowed KU to pay to move her to Lawrence if that is what the family decides.