Whenever his team lost a baseball game, Justin Cockerham liked to come back to Edmund Burke Academy in Waynesboro, Ga., and sit alone atop the hill overlooking the field.
"It was just his place," said Brent Cribb, who coached the 2000 Burke graduate his senior year in football, basketball and his passion - baseball. Coach Cribb also officiated at Justin's funeral after the 18-year-old died in an early-morning car accident March 4 in Burke County.
The Cockerhams worshipped at McBean Baptist Church in Waynesboro, a church that holds about 200. But the funeral services for the lifelong Burke County resident were held at the larger First Baptist Church of Waynesboro to hold the crowd who came to pay their respects.
To honor Justin, several Waynesboro churches will designate a softball field behind McBean Baptist as "Justin's Field" during a dedication at 5 p.m. today.
Justin's friends will play outfield. Debi Cockerham, his mother, will throw out the first pitch to his dad, Gene, before other friends and guests come on the field for a pick-up game. McBean members will grill hot dogs and burgers for a cookout and close the event with a bonfire and mortgage burning.
An anonymous donor paid off the church's debt in Justin's memory, said Judy Broadwater, a McBean member.
Justin was the youngest certified auctioneer in Georgia, said Pip Williams, one of his former Sunday school teachers. "He loved helping his dad out as an auctioneer."
The teen died instantly when the car he was driving missed a curve and hit a tree, said Mrs. Williams, whose son Ryan was a passenger in the vehicle. "It was a lousy, rainy night."
Justin attended Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville but lived at home. He was "just a real good kid," amiable, personable, funny and sports-crazy, Mrs. Williams said.
McBean's pastor, Dr. Clayton Galloway, who also officiated at the funeral, remembers Justin as a faithful young man "who had his whole life ahead of him. The world was at his doorstep."
The Waynesboro community drew together in support of the Cockerham family after its loss. By far, the majority of the hundreds of people at his funeral were other youths, many of whom heard the gospel and came to faith at that time, Dr. Galloway said. "It is amazing the number of lives this young man touched in his short 18 years."
The teen was "very, very sociable" and never played favorites but helped anybody he could, coach Cribb said.
He played center on the football team, catcher on the baseball team and "everywhere" on the basketball team, coach Cribb said. "He was the kind of kid that you didn't have to worry if he was doing the best he could because he always was."
But Justin's love was baseball, his coach said. "I can't think of a more fitting tribute to him than (naming) a baseball field" after him.
Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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