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An emotional farewell to Jordan and his ‘bright light’

Friends gather around the casket of Romell Jordan in the Cleveland High School auditorium prior to Saturday’s memorial service. Jordan, a football star at Cleveland who went on to play at New Mexico, died on Wednesday at age 23. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

RIO RANCHO – Hundreds of people filled Cleveland High School’s concert hall on Saturday afternoon to pay tribute to former Storm and University of New Mexico running back Romell Jordan.

“Romell,” UNM football coach Bob Davie said, “was a bright light.”

Grieving family and friends, former coaches and teammates filled the hall during a 75-minute memorial service that was by various measures somber, upsetting, affectionate and even humorous.

Cleveland football coach Heath Ridenour talks emotionally about his former player. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Jordan died Wednesday in Hobbs. He was 23.

His coffin was placed near the front of the stage Saturday afternoon, adorned by red roses. On the stage were home and away jerseys with his Cleveland No. 10 and his UNM No. 4, plus a helmet from each team and photos of him in action with both teams.

“He had a contagious spirit and was so much fun to be around,” said Davie, one of several speakers at the service.

Jordan was remembered fondly for his beaming smile, his love of people, and above all, his unwavering generosity toward others.

“So charismatic and so genuine,” said Arlan Swihart, Jordan’s legal guardian until Jordan turned 18. “He was a member of every single person’s family, and he was taking care of everybody. He tried to be everything to everybody.”

Cleveland High football coach Heath Ridenour delivered a touching, 20-minute speech about his former athlete, frequently holding back tears.

“This turnout today is amazing,” Ridenour said. “I knew it would be.”

Ridenour, as others did, emphasized Jordan’s gregarious nature, infectious smile and his propensity for wanting to help others.

“He always showed up for us,” Ridenour said. “We lost a great one this week.”

It was Ridenour who provided the service’s lighter moments as he reflected on his time coaching Jordan.

That included the day that Ridenour’s former boss at Cleveland, then-head football coach Kirk Potter, slammed his arm into Ridenour’s chest and told Ridenour to pay attention to the new athlete on campus who was making his way toward them.

“You just became a whole lot better coach,” Potter said to Ridenour.

Ridenour noticed Jordan’s unique walk, how he tended to step high on his toes, and joked that Jordan was working on his calves. This drew a laugh.

“It was his strut,” Ridenour said.

And, he added, Jordan did indeed add infinite value to the Cleveland program with his on-field brilliance, as he helped the Storm to an undefeated season in 2011. He finished his playing career with the Storm in 2012.

“Coach Potter was right,” Ridenour said. “I became a better coach that day, because Romell Jordan strutted his way into my life. Lord how I loved to watch that (kid) run.”

A large number of Jordan’s immedate family attended the service, many of them in red tops with “Pooh Bear” – a nickname for Jordan – written on the back. None of them spoke at the service. Jordan was recalled as a loving uncle to his nieces and nephews.

Davie was the only Division I coach to offer Jordan a scholarship, which allowed Jordan to fulfill a promise had made to his mother, Tamala Cade-Manning, who died in 2016. He promised his mom he would graduate from college. Which he did.

“When it comes to Romell Jordan,” Davie said, “we all have a common thread that ties us together. He affected us all in a very positive way.

“Today is a very sad day,” Davie continued. “Because we all (thought) there would be many, many more chapters in Romell’s story.”

Kacie Swihart, Arlan’s daughter, was one of the speakers. She said everyone had been impacted by Jordan’s personality.

“It was Romell I could count on at the end of a long day,” Kacie Swihart said. “Romell has been my rock, as he was for so many people. He would drop everything to be there for every one of us when we needed him. He was always putting others ahead of himself.”

Blake Swihart of the Boston Red Sox, who graduated from Cleveland and was extremely close to Jordan – the two were, in essence, brothers, as Jordan lived with the Swiharts for a few years going back to his days at Cleveland – attended the service but did not speak.

Blake Swihart of the Boston Red Sox, front, was a pallbearer for Romell Jordan, who lived with and had become part of the Swihart family for a few years while in high school.

It was Ridenour who had perhaps the most touching anecdote on Jordan, as he thought back to the day UNM offered him a scholarship.

“I wanted to cry because I was so happy for him,” Ridenour said. “He gave me a hug, and he said, ‘Coach, we did it!’ I said, ‘No, Romell, you did it.’ ”

Then, Ridenour said, Jordan ran around giving anyone and everyone a hug. Not because he was gloating, the coach said.

Jordan just wanted to thank them.

Near the end of Jordan’s obituary, which was written on a handout Saturday, were these words:

“Romell the man with an unmatched heart of gold can never be replaced.”

Photographs and football helmet by the flower-draped casket of Romell Jordan. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)