There are plenty of clichés about teams being a special bond and a brotherhood of sorts.
That thought constantly came to mind Tuesday after reading that three Brooks County High School football players were killed in a single-car accident in the South Georgia county.
Rising seniors Jicarre Watkins and Shawn Waters and rising junior Johnnie Parker had their lives cut way too short, and a fourth Trojans’ player, Devron Whitfield, was in critical condition Tuesday afternoon at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla.
The tragedy is just another reminder of life being too short. It also is a reminder of what a community sports can be.
A vigil was held, school board meetings were cancelled and the horrific event will surely serve as a rallying cry and a somber bond for the Brooks County football team and its students.
Having had to cover Brooks County during a past job, I know the town is close with its football team and will no doubt feel the pain for a long time. But the silver lining will be that rallying cry.
As rains pour down over middle Georgia for what seems like the whole summer, there is time to reflect on things not happening between the lines of fields, diamonds and courts. This is one of those times.
Sadness is obviously the first emotion. But then it’s anger, followed by the team and community coming together. This Brooks County season and the seasons of several teams, most likely, will be in memory of Watkins, Waters and Parker. It will be a sad season, one to go beyond sports.
Professional teams typically always wear the number of a fallen teammate on their jerseys, tributes are paid and plaques are constructed.
On college teams, the memory is passed down from team to team such as Central Florida’s Ereck Plancher, who passed away in 2008. His cousin even brought a sense of rallying for a fallen football comrade to his school, rival University of South Florida.
These tragedies are horrible, not only because the athletes are so young, but also because as athletes we see in them substantiated promise. It's a promise now that can only be carried on to and by others. Something I hope will happen in Brooks County, and I know can happen.
Covington has felt a tragedy in its own sports world after a fatal accident to T.J. Hailey in 2003. Since then there’s been an empty place where people normally think of the young baseball player, but his legacy has seemingly lived on in his father, former Newton County Recreation Commission Chairman Tommy Hailey’s mind, the Newton County baseball community and the community as a whole.
Helping in the recovery has been the formation of the T.J. Hailey Scholarship, created to continue his legacy, give back to the community and serve as a way the community remains involved in the healing from Hailey’s loss.
Rockdale has been through a similar devastation with Aubrae Gunderson’s fatal car wreck in September 2005.
In Gunderson’s case, the community rallied around the loss of the Heritage High cross-country runner and formed a cross-country meet and scholarship in her name, keeping her memory alive and helping in the community’s mourning.
In a perfect world there would never be a young person’s life ended too soon, but in the meantime we must take solace that it’s in the sports world, where not only will the memory of fallen teammates be carried on, but the community can help itself heal and never forget its lost friends and teammates.