A family member of the one of the fallen Brooks County football players embrace a member of the Monroe fan base at midfield during a pre-game ceremony Friday night at Hugh Mills. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — What started as a small ceremony to honor the families of three fallen Brooks County football players Friday night before the Trojans kicked off their season against Monroe grew into something more just minutes before commencing.
A whole lot more.
Families and friends of Brooks seniors Jicarre Watkins and Shawn Waters and junior Johnnie Parker, who were killed in a car accident in July on their way to a morning football practice, were supposed to meet just the Monroe cheerleaders and select Tornadoes players at midfield of Hugh Mills Stadium for a presentation of roses, a plaque and a few hugs. But minutes before the ceremony commenced, both teams — the entire teams — filed out of their respective locker rooms and stood facing each other, helmets in their hand, at opposite ends of the end zone. Then, both squads stood nearly motionless as the families of the fallen players, who were escorted by the Brooks County cheerleaders, walked toward the center of the field from the 50-yard line to meet as Monroe principal Vinson Davis announced the last-second change.
“Ladies and gentleman, in a last-second change of plans, both teams have asked to be present on the field during the honoring of the lives of Jicarre Watkins, Shawn Waters and Johnnie Parker,” Davis called out over the loudspeaker from the visitor’s press box. “What a true showing of solidarity and sportsmanship.”
The Monroe players were led onto the field by senior star quarterback Charles Stafford, who -- along with senior linebacker Tim McCray and others --- presented the plaque to all the members of the families in attendance. Stafford whispered, “I’m sorry for your loss,” to each one as they embraced, to which many of them replied, “Thank you.”
For others, however, the moment was almost too much. Tears and silence were their only offering in exchange for Monroe’s kindness.
Parker’s mother, however, wanted to express how much she appreciated what Monroe did to honor her son.
“It means a lot,” Tabatha Parker said as she wiped tears from her eyes and held a rose meant to symbolize her lost child. “It really means a lot.”
When asked if each day that passed was getting easier to cope with her loss, or if moments of remembrance such as Friday’s made it hard to move on, Parker tried to find the words to explain how she and her family felt.
“In between, I guess,” she said. “There are good days and there are bad. (Friday) night, and what Monroe did (for all the lost players) was a good one. Thank you, Monroe. Thank you so very much.”
Parker’s father, Johnnie Sr., added one final thought as he stood next to Johnnie Jr.’s sister Amy.
“We sure do miss him a lot,” he said with a nod, then walked to the stands to watch the game.
De’vron Whitfield, a rising Brooks junior, was the fourth passenger in the car, which he was ejected from. Whitfield survived the crash and returned to the team recently.