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Oxbow Student Dies During Trip

Sean Tillotson

Sean Tillotson

Bradford, Vt. — Members of the Oxbow Union High School football team remembered teammate Sean Tillotson, who died suddenly this week at an airport in Colorado, as a hard-working athlete who thrived on helping the people around him.

Tillotson, 17, who was set to start his senior year this fall, died on Monday after he collapsed at the airport in Denver, where he was making a layover on his way to Wyoming for a leadership conference, according to information on the Oxbow Union website and a fundraising page set up to help his family pay for funeral and travel costs.

The cause of death is pending an autopsy, according to the fundraising page.

“You couldn’t do wrong by Sean,” said team captain Hunter Page, a friend of Tillotson’s who had known him for years. “He was very forgiving, and he told you how he felt. He was very straight-up and honest with you.

“He didn’t hate anybody. He was very friendly with everybody he saw and met.”

Coach Mark Palmieri said Tillotson was “probably the hardest working player I’ve ever coached.”

“And I’m not just saying that,” Palmieri said, recalling Tillotson constantly lifting, running and working out. “He was the kid in the weight room … in the morning when nobody was there.”

Tillotson, Palmieri said, was “just a good, all-American boy. Nothing anybody wouldn’t like. Just a good kid, a very bright young man.”

Members of the Oxbow community held a vigil Thursday night. At least 100 people attended the event, which was moved to Oxbow High School because of rain and lightning.

Funeral services are scheduled for July 11 at 11 a.m. at the high school lacrosse field, according to an obituary. Burial services will be held at a later date. The fundraising page, set up by a family friend at http://www.gofundme.com/axsv10, had nearly met its $10,000 goal by early Thursday evening.

Tillotson’s parents could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Another teammate, rising junior Chris Underhill, and Page both said their friend had a great sense of humor that he let shine once he got to know people.

Underhill said Tillotson was particulary on-point at cracking jokes about “real-life things, or something that (had just) happened.”

And even if somebody else made a joke that fell a little flat, Tillotson nevertheless “got a wicked kick out of it and laughed a lot,” Page said.

In addition to football, Tillotson had played soccer, lacrosse and baseball at various times, Palmieri and the players said, recalling Tillotson as a dedicated athlete. He played several positions on the gridiron, including running back and tight end.

Palmieri said Tillotson recovered from knee surgery last season just in time to play in the playoffs, which he called “miraculous.”

Tillotson had additional surgery on the same knee about eight weeks ago, he said, and the youngster was unsure whether he would be able to play football this season. However, Palmieri said Tillotson was dedicated to being on the team in some fashion, such as in a managerial role, because he loved being around his teammates.

He was also a marksman and was part of a four-person Vermont team that captured two bronze medals and placed fourth overall at a national shooting competition in Texas in 2011, according to Valley News reports at the time.

Palmieri said Tillotson was an Eagle Scout, as well, and Page said Tillotson was involved in cleaning up trails — another example of his helping nature.

Indeed, they said, it seemed that Tillotson’s career goals — he was interested in potentially pursuing sports medicine — were also an extension of his desire to help.

“That was what he did, he wanted to be helping people,” Page said.

Tillotson didn’t get the most playing minutes on the football team, they said, but he was a crucial member of the squad.

Underhill recalled Tillotson as a role model for younger players, as well as a unifying force.

“Other than one of the hardest workers, he kind of brought the team together quite a bit,” Underhill said. “There was a couple times my freshman year where the team was kind of divided … and Sean would do something to bring us back together, and we’d realize there’s a bigger reason.”

He was held in high regard in the Oxbow community, Underhill said.

“He was the kind of person you wanted to be,” he said. “No matter what happened, no matter what was going on with life or school or anything, he was always happy. ... He always wanted to put a smile on your face.”

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.