Help­ing to ease the pain


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


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.

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