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Patty Leon: Thank you, guys; thank you, coach!
Patty Leon new

I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Hinesville last week. And I heard that JaQuez Motley, a basketball star I used to cover when I was a sports writer and he was a Faith Baptist Christian Academy phenom, was going to be playing. I went to go check out his Gold Elite league, something he started last year.

Much to my surprise, other student athletes I covered were playing in the league as well. I got a chance to catch up with another Faith Baptist star, Shavon Stoves, and Liberty County High School superstar Rion Brown. And serving as the event’s DJ was former Panther basketball player and football quarterback Julian Stokes. These are all young men now, some with children and the next generation of superstars to come.

There were also plenty of other folks I got the chance to say hello to, after not seeing them for a few years. I forgot just how HOT it got in these gyms, but so many memories came rushing back to me when I looked on the walls and saw so many names that made it BIG time, that I had the honor to cover.

I was humbled by JaQuez and others for the many kind words they said about me, but in all honesty, every single story I wrote about these athletes is because they earned it, with every bit of blood, sweat and tears they put into their careers to take things to the next level and beyond.

And it SUCKS that I will not be in town this coming weekend.

Liberty County High School and former NBA basketball player Jordan McRae is hosting an EPIC weekend, with a basketball camp Friday morning and a football camp, featuring Panther alumni and NFL players Raekwon McMillan and Richard LeCounte, Friday night. And on Saturday, he is hosting a basketball game that is practically a Who’s Who of basketball players from this county who also played in college and some even professionally, most of whom I had the HONOR to cover throughout their careers.


If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out our sports page for all the information!

But in the middle of all this, all of us got hit with a harsh reality: Liberty County lost a great man.

Beloved Liberty County High School head football coach Kirk Warner passed away June 16, after battling an aggressive form of cancer. Warner played tight end at the University of Georgia from 1986 until 1989 and was the Panthers’ head coach since 2002.

He took the Panthers to 11 state playoffs and three region championships.

In his career, Warner mentored several players, including the two I mentioned above who now play in the NFL.

Earlier this year, Warner was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer called angiosarcoma. According to a GoFundMe page created by friends, Warner slipped into a coma about a month ago and was fighting for his life.

Angiosarcoma is a rare cancer that develops in the inner lining of blood vessels and lymph vessels That just sounds AWFUL.

Warner was a man of God, community and family. He was a role model to his students and athletes. He was a father figure to many, and it’s just sad to know he is gone. I know that he is no longer in pain and is in Heaven, but still, this loss hurts. This past Sunday was Father’s Day. My father died two years ago, and the pain is still fresh within my heart.

I can’t imagine what his two sons and his wife are going through right now. I know I am heartbroken. To know that the Warner family had to endure such a difficult loss during this typically celebratory weekend is crushing. I hope they know that the community will always support them. Panther Nation is strong, and Warner will be forever in our hearts.

For roughly nine years, during the time I spent covering high school sports for the Courier, I watched as Warner turned boys into men, sculpted players into athletes and mentored young men as they progressed through college.

On the sidelines and during practices, he was always polite with me as I fumbled with my camera and recorder. He was always professional, even if I had to interview him after a difficult loss.

He taught me a lot during my fledgling days as a sports writer. I’m truly going to miss him, and I know the community will as well. My love and condolences go out to his family during this difficult time.

Patty Leon is senior editor of the Coastal Courier.

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