The 12th anniversary of the deaths of four Mainland Regional High School football players was Sunday, Aug 20.

On Saturday, Aug 20, 2011, a group of players from the Mainland Regional team decided to have lunch to celebrate the last football practice of the summer, a school tradition. About 20 players piled into vehicles to make the trip to Old Country Buffet in Mays Landing.

Eight of the boys -- ages 15 to 17 --  squeezed into Casey Brenner's 2002 Ford Explorer.

As the SUV went over a hill on the southbound lanes of the Garden State Parkway, they encountered heavy traffic just before the exit for the Atlantic City Expressway.

“They attempted to brake, the driver lost directional control, and that caused him to roll over several times,” said Sgt. Julian Castellanos, a spokesman for the New Jersey State Police said at the time.

Three teens died at the scene and a fourth died at the Atlantic City campus of AtlantiCare.

The other four passengers in the Explorer were taken to AtlantiCare, and they all survived their injuries.

I will never forget how stunned and saddened South Jersey was after news broke that the boys had died. The entire community was crushed by the senselessness of the loss.

Ties in the South Jersey communities run deep and long and made the losses of so many young lives personally felt by many.

Nicholas Conner, 16,  and Casey Brenner, 17, came from Northfield; Edgar Bozzi, 16,  from Somers Point; and Dean Khoury, 15 from Linwood. They had played against one another in middle school before teaming up at Mainland.

One story has stuck with me concerning the Mainland High football team that year. Later in the season, the Mainland coach, Bob Coffey, slipped up one day and accidentally called out Edgar Bozzi's name when he got to it on his roster. After a pause, a handful of players all piped up, "Here."

For the rest of the season, every time roll was called before a practice, Casey, Dean, Edger, and Nick's names are called out and the players responded together as a team.

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