Clark Atlanta shooting victim remembered as ‘a coach’s dream’

Clark Atlanta University student Jatonne Sterling, 20, was fatally shot Tuesday near campus. Photo courtesy of Ernest Radcliffe

Credit: Photo courtesy of Ernest Radcliffe

Credit: Photo courtesy of Ernest Radcliffe

Clark Atlanta University student Jatonne Sterling, 20, was fatally shot Tuesday near campus. Photo courtesy of Ernest Radcliffe

Jatonne Sterling impressed his youth baseball coach from the first time they met years ago.

Sterling was not even a teenager when he ran up to Ernest Radcliffe and greeted the Chicago coach with “the firmest handshake you can ever imagine.”

“He was excellent. Everybody loved him. He was a coach’s dream, a coach would want to have 25 Jatonne Sterlings,” said Radcliffe.

But there could be just one Jatonne Sterling.

Now loved ones back in his hometown of Chicago and at Clark Atlanta University, where he was a sophomore and played baseball, are grieving his loss. The 20-year-old student was fatally shot Tuesday afternoon near campus on Beckwith Street.

Father Urey Patrick Mark leads a prayer vigil for Jatonne Sterling at the parking lot of the Lyke House, the Catholic center and ministry at Atlanta University Center, on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in Atlanta. Jatonne Sterling, a Clark Atlanta student, was fatally shot in the center’s parking lot, on Beckwith Street the day before, Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 28, 2023. Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Atlanta police have not released details about a suspect as of Wednesday afternoon.

The Atlanta University Center Consortium, which includes Clark Atlanta and other nearby historically Black colleges, said the security and police presence has been elevated in the area.

“We will continue to work with the leading agency in this investigation, Atlanta Police Department and continue to engage in our relationship with surrounding law enforcement agencies as this investigation continues to ensure the safety of the campuses we serve,” the AUC statement said.

Campuses, including Clark Atlanta, and the AUC-Student Health and Wellness Center, are providing counseling services.

A spokeswoman for Clark Atlanta on Wednesday declined to respond to questions about campus safety. The surrounding area has been the scene of several shootings in recent years in which students were injured.

The university also declined requests to interview officials, citing the ongoing investigation. In an email, Kentaus “K.C.” Carter, Clark Atlanta’s head baseball coach, said he would not speak at this time “at the request of the family.”

The school’s spokeswoman referred comment to a statement issued late Tuesday, in which the school urged anyone with information about the shooting to contact Atlanta police.

“Our condolences go out to his family and friends,” the statement said.

By Wednesday morning, Radcliffe had already heard from baseball players around the country who knew and played with Sterling, who was also a member of Clark Atlanta’s team.

Jatonne Sterling, right, is shown in this photograph with his high school baseball coach, Ernest Radcliffe, after their team won a Chicago city championship in 2021. Photo courtesy of Ernest Radcliffe.

Credit: Ernest Radcliffe

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Credit: Ernest Radcliffe

Sterling played on several baseball and football teams for Radcliffe, including travel teams and the Morgan Park High School baseball team that captured the Chicago Public High Schools Athletic Association city championship in 2021, the year Sterling graduated.

Sterling chose to play at the private school in Atlanta, along with several of his high school teammates, after a campus visit and being recruited, said Radcliffe. The coach keeps in frequent touch with his former players and last spoke to Sterling about a week and a half ago.

“I call all the time because I have to make sure they’re on top of their grades (and) they’re playing at a high level on their teams,” he said.

Sterling was doing well at Clark Atlanta, he said.

In high school, Sterling was one of the players interviewed for TV sports stories and quoted by reporters about new dugouts or the parade celebrating the team’s championship win. Sterling talked about how he’d improved during his high school career. He credited that to hard work and the help of his teammates and coach.

“I think that not only my athletic ability has grown, but also my character,” he said, in a blog post for Chicago Public Schools.

Sterling was also a “sensational young man” off the field, his coach said. He was respectful — responding with “yes, sir” and “no, sir,” Radcliffe said. He also was a good student, excellent teammate and he stepped up to help his family after his father died unexpectedly a few years ago.

“He was everything to his mom,” Radcliffe said. “He became the man of the house.”

Father Urey Patrick Mark leads a prayer vigil for Jatonne Sterling at the parking lot of the Lyke House, the Catholic campus ministry at Atlanta University Center, on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, in Atlanta. Jatonne Sterling, a Clark Atlanta student, was fatally shot at the center’s parking lot, on Beckwith Street the day before, Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 28, 2023. Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

icon to expand image

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Tuesday’s shooting took place near a residence hall in the parking lot of the Lyke House Catholic Center at the Atlanta University Center. Just 26 hours later, after sweeping up shards of glass from the scene, about 10 people gathered in the empty lot for a prayer vigil, to sing hymns and read Scripture.

Father Urey P. Mark, the center’s chaplain, never met Sterling but offered words of faith and comfort. When he paused for personal tributes, one Clark Atlanta student said that if the shooting had happened at a predominantly white institution there would have been more safety measures.

“HBCUs need awareness,” said the student, who did not give her name. “We literally need protection.”

The Clark Atlanta community has dealt with gun violence before.

In 2019, as the school year was about to begin, two Clark Atlanta and two Spelman College students were injured in a shooting outside the Atlanta University Center library.

Last fall, four people, including two Clark Atlanta students and an Atlanta University Center student, were injured in a drive-by shooting near the library. The incident took place during the school’s homecoming week.

Clark Atlanta’s athletics department posted a brief message about him on social media Wednesday.

“Gone too soon. Please keep Jatonne’s family in your prayers.”

Staff writer Caroline Silva contributed to this article.

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