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The pandemic has claimed around 12,000 North Carolinian lives since March 24, 2020. To honor them, we're telling eight life stories – a cross-section of our Carolina neighbors – that ended too soon due to COVID.

'So Bright And So Big': Remembering Teacher And Coach Jamie Seitz

Jamie-Seitz-updated.jpeg
Natalia Polanco
/
For WUNC

Jamie Seitz was a beloved teacher and coach known for his charisma, playfulness and his calm regard for others.

“It didn't matter if you were a kindergartner in his PE class or a senior on his basketball team, he just knew how to address each person with great respect, and, so people respected him,” said his brother Denny Seitz.

Jamie Seitz taught physical education for 25 years, mostly at the Lincoln Charter School in Denver, North Carolina. He coached boys' basketball and golf, and earlier in his career, had coached girls' volleyball. He was 51 when he died of COVID-19 in December.

"He had this incredible way of making everything fun and making people feel comfortable and feel special," said his wife Liz Seitz. "Jamie always put other people first. When he would ask you, 'How are you doing?' He would sit and listen and really wanted to know."

"Here's this 6-foot-4 athletic guy, and yet he was soft spoken and his words were sincere and true," Denny Seitz said.

"Jamie was mischievous. He was funny. He was sarcastic. He was always fun to listen to and to be around," said Denny Seitz.

Jamie's death was abrupt for the Seitz family, who had anticipated his return from the hospital. At one point, they hoped he might be home in time for Christmas.

"I saw him on [December] 20th, and he had improved significantly," said Liz Seitz. "Denny had snuck into the hospital twice and was able to see him through the door frame or the window, and every time Jamie would improve a little bit."

"Oh, he'd perk right up," Denny Seitz said with smile.

Then Liz received an unexpected call to come to the hospital quickly to say her final good-bye.

Shock sunk in. The Seitz family and their community continue to mourn.

After Jamie's passing, his brother Denny walked into a restaurant and was stopped by the parent of one of Jamie's former students. The father called his son on the phone to talk to Denny on the spot.

"The kid was somebody who tried out for the basketball team and Jamie cut him. Then he started drifting away from the crowd of kids he was normally hanging out with, and Jamie reeled him back in," Denny Seitz explained.

"Here's a kid that Jamie cut from his team, and he's calling me up and talking to me and crying and telling me what an important part of his maturity Jamie played and how he was a role model and loved him anyway," Denny said.

Jamie left behind two children, Peyton, 14, and Carter, 17. Both attended the same school where Jamie taught, and had known their dad as their own teacher and coach.

Lantern lighting ceremony
Courtesy of Denny Seitz
Lincoln Charter School held a lantern lighting ceremony as a memorial after Jamie Seitz's passing.

"Our kids adored him and he adored them," said Liz Seitz. "I'm so grateful to have married a man like that."

"So often, the kids and I say we expect him to come walking through that door and just light up the room like he always did," said Liz Seitz. "This house was never quiet. It's painfully quiet now."

The community Jamie Seitz helped build over his 25 year career came together to support his family after his passing. Thousands of people sat in their cars at the school parking lot to tune into a socially-distanced vigil broadcast by radio and to witness a twilight lantern lighting.

"The sky was clear. It was full of stars," recalled Liz Seitz. "When we lit the lanterns and the lanterns went up, the entire sky lit up and I just remember thinking it really encompassed who Jamie was as a person — just so bright and so big, and awesome."

"There's really not enough adjectives to describe the outpouring of support," said Liz Seitz. "And it made me, and makes me today, proud, and happy for Jamie, that he was so important to thousands of people."

"One little boy, I'll never forget — it was just so funny — but he just looked up and he said, 'Coach Seitz was my favorite grown up,'" Denny Seitz said. "I just thought that was so perfect for Jamie."

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