WAYNESBORO, Ga. — They stood in what resembled a semicircle, with some wearing black state football championship shirts, others donning Burke County blue.
They stood together, hand-in-hand or head-on-shoulder, and thought of Denzell Warthen, the brother, friend and teammate they lost.
More than 200 members from the community came together for a vigil for Warthen on Sunday evening at Burke County High School’s football stadium.
Warthen, 18, died in a single-car accident early Saturday morning, just weeks prior to graduation. He was a key member of the 14-1 Class AAA state championship football team and its defense.
Some lit candles during the remembrance, taking turns using a lighter or touching wick to wick as the number of flames grew.
“I lost my baby brother – my only brother,” his sister, Tyeisha Warthen said. “He lived life to the fullest.”
Members of Warthen’s family stood in the front, hands full of tissues as they cried for their lost loved one.
A few people from the crowd came forward to share their memories, including Warthen’s brother, Alvin Jones Jr.
He happily remembered when his brother first started playing recreation football.
But now he said he can’t look at the spot where his brother died the same way he did before the accident – he sees only his brother’s body on the ground.
Bears head football coach Eric Parker also spoke, and fondly recalled a time when coaches wondered why an undersized Warthen, who was nicknamed “Snake,” was out there on the football field.
Warthen didn’t give up and eventually became an impact player on the team; he made an interception against Allatoona in the state quarterfinals.
After wins like that one on Friday nights – common occurrences for Burke County – Warthen would be the one leading the chants and the dances.
“To me, he was the symbol of what was right about high school athletics,” Parker said.
“He’ll forever be a part of our brotherhood,” Parker said. “He’ll never be forgotten.”
Warthen wasn’t alone in the car. Longtime friend Feadrick Jackson was with him and was taken to Medical College of Georgia Hospital. A bandaged Jackson came to the vigil.
Jackson’s mother, Betty, said her son and Warthen had been friends since both were very little. She said she often made dinner for Warthen and her other children.
Burke County High School Principal Sam Adkins said he didn’t know how the idea for the vigil started.