Members of the community filled Dorchester Village Civic Center in Midway on Tuesday night to share prayers for Joe Watkins, a former Liberty County High School baseball player who was seriously injured Friday night in a one-vehicle accident on Isle of Wight Road.
About 130 friends and supporters filled the center’s auditorium to comfort each other and offer words of encouragement for Watkins, his parents, Pat Watkins and Jan Williams, and his brother, Richard Watkins.
Joe Watkins currently is in critical condition at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center. Pat Watkins said his son’s team of physicians hope the teen’s brain swelling will start to subside Friday.
During Tuesday’s hour-long prayer vigil, attendees shared memories and stories about Watkins, who is a freshman at Georgia Southern University.
Cindy Harris, a family friend, started the vigil by telling the crowd that Watkins is quite a ladies’ man.
“No offense to you girls, but Joe had a lot of girlfriends,” she said.
Harris recalled taking her son, Cameron Harris, and Watkins on a beach trip, where Watkins met a group of girls. Harris said Watkins wanted to spend the evening cruising the area with the girls and asked to borrow her car.
“Joe must have come into my room over a dozen times, asking me to borrow the car so he could meet the girls,” she said. “I had to tell him no until he finally gave up and went to bed.”
Craig Ward, Watkins’ former baseball coach, reminded the audience that the athlete, who is known for his pitching, doesn’t give up easily.
“Joe has always been a fighter. He never quit. He played hard to the last inning,” Ward said.
Watkins played baseball for four years at Liberty County High School, showing tenacity at the mound and at bat. During his senior year, Watkins posted 93 strikeouts in 60.3 innings pitched. During his junior year, he was selected to the Georgia Dugout’s Top 100 Showcase. He won the coach’s Cy Young Award his freshman and junior seasons.
Everyone at the gathering sent prayers that Watkins will fight in the hospital as hard as he has on the diamond.
Jeri Lynn Whitmore, another family friend who had planned to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with Watkins and his family, said, “Joe has always been a good-hearted kid. Anything you needed him to do, he would do it for you. He loves all his friends and his friends all love him.”
Pastor Jeremy Lormis of New Life Family Church led the prayer vigil and spoke fondly of Watkins.
David Turner, a local musician who played guitar and sang, moved the crowd with his rendition of “I Just Want to Celebrate Another Day of Living.”
The evening came to a close as the attendees held their illuminated cell phones above their heads as Turner sang “Amazing Grace.”
The Watkins family, speaking from Jacksonville, expressed gratitude for the outpouring of community support.
“Thanks to everyone who attended the vigil and everyone who has been praying for us. They’re helping to sustain us,” Pat Watkins said. “Joe’s fighting a hard battle, and we’re hoping for good news on Friday.”