WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Friday, students at Gray Collegiate Academy came together for a bittersweet celebration. They're hoping to bring home their first basketball state championship Friday night, but they're one player short.
Tiquan Taylor was shot and killed last weekend when Richland County deputies say a 16-year-old tried to rob him and a friend. Students and staff at Gray Collegiate are taking the pain they feel from losing Taylor and turning it into real change by launching a brand new campaign.
They say they're cutting their hair in hopes of cutting the senseless violence affecting our youth.
Sporting his own fresh haircut, Gray Collegiate principal, Dr. Brian Newsome said Cut Your Hair, Cut the Violence is a campaign to try to help kids understand the dangers of guns and violence.
"We, tragically, lost one of our own students over the weekend," Dr. Newsome said. "We lost one of our family. We lost a great family member. Tiquan Taylor was a wonderful young man with an effervescent smile and always positive in the hallways and just a staple of what we try and have here in at gray. So, it's just an outward symbol to our community that Gray's hurting right now."
Hurting at a time that should be one of its happiest, the school's basketball team is competing in its first-ever championship game Friday night - with their teammate gone, but not forgotten. At a pep rally Friday morning, the team embraced Tiquan's mother before presenting her with his jersey signed by all the players.
Teammates and classmates alike are wanting to make a difference for Tiquan.
"I didn't really know him outside of school but I played football with him and I saw him every day and he was a real good kid," Gray Collegiate senior, Duncan Rivers said. "He had a good attitude. He was always happy, and it's just a tragedy what happened to him."
Students say the violent loss of their classmate has inspired positive change.
"It changed everything because you realize it could happen to anyone," Peyton West, a freshman said.
Friday's pep rally ended with a balloon release in memory of Tiquan, fresh haircuts, and for many students a fresh outlook on life.
"Just being more grateful of life and caring and showing more affection and love to the people that I care about," Rivers said. "This country has really gotten out of control and we need to come together and put a stop to it."
The principal says the event was not about gun control but taking a stand against gun violence and moving forward with a positive message after Tiquan's violent death.