A 15-year-old student at Copiague High School unexpectedly collapsed and died on Wednesday, during a tryout session for the school basketball team. Newsday's Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Howard Schnapp; Photo Credit: Tiffany Wofford; Arthur Payton

Carmyne Payton was happy, jumping up and down and running around. The 15-year-old had tried out for the Copiague High School basketball team and made the first cut Tuesday. He was looking forward to showing his skills again Wednesday, his mother said.

"He was excited. ‘We made the cut!’ he said," his mother, Tiffany Wofford, recalled. "He was running around."

On Wednesday, his mother said, she received a phone call from school officials, telling her she needed to come to the school. Her son had fallen hard and needed an ambulance. She figured he had busted a rib or leg.

"I saw them working on him — doing CPR," Wofford said. "They took him to the hospital. He never woke up. He just never woke up."

During Wednesday's tryout session at Walter G. O’Connell Copiague High School, Carmyne unexpectedly collapsed and died.

The boy’s father, Arthur Payton, said authorities had told him his son, a 10th-grader, died of an apparent heart attack, though he awaited the results of an autopsy. He said Carmyne was a healthy kid.

Suffolk County police said they were investigating the death but believe it was noncriminal.

Carmyne Payton died Wednesday, family and police say.

Carmyne Payton died Wednesday, family and police say. Credit: Tiffany Wofford

With sobs and heavy sighs, Wofford said she is struggling to understand what happened to her son. He had some asthma but it was controlled, she said.

"I’m at a loss for words. I don’t know what happened to my kid," the mother said.

This was the first time Carmyne had tried out for the basketball team. He had been practicing all summer. He loved basketball, drawing and skateboarding.

The boy’s father told Newsday he also had received a call Wednesday from school officials saying he needed to come to the school, that they had called an ambulance for his son.

Payton also said he figured Carmyne had broken a leg. But when he arrived, he said, his son was unconscious with medical workers around him.

Arthur Payton said he knew the situation was bad as soon as he arrived, having himself served as an EMT for 18 years.

"I see them working on my son," he said, adding that he was devastated because he could not save him.

"I'm not the same person now," he said. "I lost my only boy."

He also had seen his son’s elation about the prospect of making the team.

"He was very excited," Payton said. "He made the first cut for the boys basketball team. This was the second day of tryouts."

Arthur Payton speaks Thursday about his son.

Arthur Payton speaks Thursday about his son. Credit: Howard Schnapp

He said his son had a generous heart.

"He was a loving, caring, helpful person," he said. "I love him. I’m going to miss him."

Mom Tiffany Wofford with a photo of Carmyne.

Mom Tiffany Wofford with a photo of Carmyne. Credit: Howard Schnapp

School district officials declined to comment Thursday.

High School Principal Joseph M. Agosta sent a written communication to parents and the school community saying the school has experienced a "the death of a student that has affected us deeply."

Superintendent Kathleen Bannon sent a written message to the school community encouraging parents "to listen carefully to your child, answer questions openly and honestly if they occur, and let your child know that even adults do not have all of the answers to the questions they may have."

Bannon noted that the high school crisis team "has designed a plan to assist our students and staff in dealing with their feelings during this emotional period. The plan includes the temporary reassignment of a team of counselors, psychologists, and social workers to our school to advise and assist."

"The Copiague school district faculty and staff express our condolences to the family and friends of this student and pledge to provide the support and counseling necessary to help them through this difficult time," Bannon said.

Carmyne's mother said he was a good brother to his one brother and three sisters.

"He was a great big brother, just a sweet kid," she said. "He helped me out so much with his siblings."

Wofford said members of the community — some of whom she grew up with and have their own kids — have been reaching out to comfort her.

"The community is reaching around me, asking if there’s anything I need," she said.

The boy’s dad recalled his son’s last words to him: "Dad, I love you."

"I just got to cherish that moment forever," he said.

With Steve Langford

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