Legendary Hartford and Eastern CT State hoopster, Charle­­­­s “Duffy” Jernigan, mourned by countless after COVID-19 death

Hartford legend Charles “Duffy” Jernigan (number 15, center) passed away after contracting COVID-19.

By Joel Alderman

His brief college basketball career ended as the runner-up high scorer his freshman year at Eastern Connecticut State College in Willimantic. But his fame was eclipsed by his dominance gained in the gyms and on the playgrounds and outdoor courts of Hartford.

On April 28, 2020, Charles (“Duffy”) Jernigan became the eighth former college player we have learned of to be victimized by the coronavirus.

Jernigan is at least the third court player from Connecticut to be on the tragic list of those who have died from COVID-19, all within the month of April. The others were Ted Vartelis (April 1) of Ansonia, and Matt Gras (April 15), from Seymour, both of whom were featured in our previous articles.

The 61-year old Jernigan passed away at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford. He had been battling injuries and illnesses the past several years, while still attending sports events though seated in a wheelchair.

One of his sisters, Charisse Jernigan, said a few days before his passing “I know he knows the Lord, so he’s safe. Either way, whatever God decides, it will be what it will be.”

In the past, Jernigan had a kidney transplant and a knee replacement which required a follow-up operation. He also had heart problems.

Charisse said he contracted coronavirus at the Bloomfield (CT) Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, where he was recuperating after the second hip operation.

Jernigan was admitted to the hospital on April 20th with a high fever, breathing difficulties and a drop in blood pressure. He was moved to intensive care on April 24th and put on life support.

His illness and now his death inspired a wave of comments on social media. “As a player, he was an absolute beast,” said Norman Bailey, who played for Dom Perno at UConn and was one of Jernigan’s closest friends.

“Talk about a basketball player, wow,” said Michael Copeland, the co-author with Howard Greenblatt of the book “Oh What a Move! Profiles of Hartford Basketball Players 1954-94.”

Copeland considered that in ’70s and ’80s “he was epic. Incredible athleticism, like a Bo Jackson or Jim Brown.”

The Hartford area has produced some great and well-known players, such as Bob Nash, Marcus Camby, Vin Baker, and Michael Adams. But because he did not play more than a year in college and for a Division III school, and was not in the pros, he did not have the notoriety outside of Hartford as others did.

Bailey, who played at UConn, said “Duffy had this chiseled body and he played bigger than he was,” which was about 6-2 or 6-3,” but he could jump out of the gym.”

Bailey was also quoted in the Hartford Courant saying that he was a could take “ a quarter off the top of the backboard. . . He had a long-range jump shot, handled the ball and he was a natural scorer. Just a phenomenal athlete.”

He played at Hartford Public High School from 1974 to 1977. In his senior year, he was selected to the New Haven Register’s Class AA team, among the largest schools in the state.

Toward the end of the regular season in 1977 facing cross-town rival Bulkeley, he scored 38 points and had 20 rebounds in an overtime win. In the state tournament, he was on the team that upset undefeated Holy Cross of Waterbury (23-0) in the quarter-finals.

After graduating from Hartford Public he went to Eastern Connecticut State University, where he played for Bob Fisk (not to be confused with the current coach with the same name at NJIT). He was then off to Portland (Oregon) Community College and Linfield College in McMinville, OR. To our knowledge, he did not play at either.

“Very jovial, down to earth, outgoing,” Copeland said. “One of the things I’ve been most impressed by is he goes back to the games to give back to the players, to encourage them to stay focused on academics.”

Jernigan leaves six younger sisters, including Charisse. He was pre-deceased by another sister, Claudene, who died in 2000. He was not married and last lived in an Albany Avenue apartment.

Charisse said. “Duffy was tough at times because he used to trick his little sisters into doing his work. . . But Norman loved him so much and admired him, and he had such great things to say about him, so he revived (my) love for my brother. Win, lose, or draw, you’ve got to be a family.”

Jernigan was given the nickname Duff as an infant by his mother and it took on an additional letter over the years to become Duffy.

Steven Johnson (known around Hartford simply as Stevie J) played Little League with him and said “The younger folks wouldn’t know too much about him but he’s the best basketball player I’ve ever seen come through here. He was a hell of a baseball player, as well. And he could throw a football a mile.”

Too young to die, but Jernigan lived life to the fullest.

Former college basketball players to die of the coronavirus (Covid-19)

Lee Green, 49, St. John’s, March 23, 2020
David Edwards, 48, Georgetown and Texas A&M, March 23, 2020
Jonathan Duck, 50, Iona, March 24, 2020
Arnold Obey, 73, Wagner, March 29, 2020
Ted Vartelas, 89, Connecticut, April 1, 2020
Matt Gras,46, Siena, April 15, 2020
Charles “Duffy” Jernigan, April 28, 2020


Also see:

Arnold Obey, hoop and track star at Wagner in late 1960s, is another casualty of Covid-19

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