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Community mourns fallen athlete

Special Photo 
Teammates of 16-year-old Forest Jones, a junior at Locust Grove High School, are mourning his death on Aug. 3. Jones was a center for the Wildcats football team.

Special Photo Teammates of 16-year-old Forest Jones, a junior at Locust Grove High School, are mourning his death on Aug. 3. Jones was a center for the Wildcats football team.

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

The harsh sun beamed down on the campus of Locust Grove High School on Wednesday morning, as flags swayed in the breeze at half-staff, in memory of a 16-year-old student-athlete, who died the night before.

Students and faculty members at the school had just learned about the death of junior, Forest Jones, also a former student at Lovejoy High School in Lovejoy, Ga. A crisis response team, including grief counselors and social workers, were made available at the school.

"We are deeply saddened by the news and the loss of Forest, and we continue to keep his family in our thoughts and prayers," said Robyn Mullis, principal at Locust Grove.

Forest's death was related to a heat stroke he suffered on July 25, according to his family. He had been at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite all week, unconscious, with his family by his side. He died Tuesday evening.

"It hurt seeing him like that, but it was good [to be with him]," said his older sister, Cora Jones. "We were praying for a miracle."

The grief-stricken sister said she learned, while tending to her baby brother, that she was pregnant with her second child. She said she is hoping for a boy to name after Forest.

"Right now, I've got a big hole in my heart," said the teen's father, Glenn Jones. "He's my hero. He had a heart as big as the world. The nurses [at the hospital] were super heroes, too. They took good care of him around the clock."

The Joneses said the school community continues to express its support and condolences.

"I feel for the family and his teammates. I'd like to thank everybody for their support and their prayers," said Clint Satterfield, head football coach at Locust Grove.

Satterfield coached the 235-pound center for the Wildcats football team. Friends nicknamed the stout player Gump, after the film, "Forest Gump."

"He was a hero," said Satterfield. "He was one of those kids you'd love to coach. He's been a role model. He's led by example ... a hard worker of great character.

"The team will be dedicating the season to his honor and memory, and we will be wearing decals on the back of our helmets all season long in honor of him," added the coach.

Forest's sister also related his passion for the sport, and equally for succeeding in life. "He loved football, but also he wanted to be somebody," said his sister, Cora Jones. "He wanted to make my mom and dad proud. Forest wanted to be the first Jones to go to college."

Cora Jones said her brother saw football as one of the avenues in achieving his goals. He counted Tony Gonzalez, a tight-end with the Atlanta Falcons, as one of his heroes in professional football.

Family members and friends described him as a model of a strong work ethic, saying the teen was not known to complain. He was the youngest of the three children of Gladys and Glenn Jones, of Locust Grove.

"He always had something good to say," said Cora Jones. "He wasn't the type of 16-year-old to get in trouble. He was always the mature one. He loved being around my dad."

She said he worked hard over the summer with his father at Tara Wrecker Service, in Jonesboro, after football practice, in order to earn money to buy a 2004 Ford Explorer.

"Forest was one of the greatest kids ... everything he did went beyond and above, and didn't complain," said his father, Glenn Jones. "That's the problem we had; he didn't complain. He exhausted himself. When your body tells you you're tired. Stop and tell somebody."

Forest was one of two student athletes to die this week, during football training camps. Reports identified D.J. Searcy, a Fitzgerald High School student in south Georgia, as having died after practice during a camp near Lake City, Fla.

Hot temperatures prompted Henry County Schools officials to cancel outside school activities Wednesday. Heat index values were forecast to reach as high as 107 degrees Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Dan Darbe, a meteorologist with National Weather Service in Peachtree City, noted a heat advisory was issued for metro Atlanta with projected high temperatures around 99 degrees. He said high pressure has dominated weather patterns in the Atlanta area in recent months, and "has resulted in above-normal high temperatures over the past month or longer."

School athletic directors, and others on practice fields around the state, are encouraged to continually monitor the weather for potentially dangerous conditions. Athletic directors receive guidance from the Georgia High School Association (GHSA), which responded to this week's tragedies.

"The Georgia High School Association is deeply saddened whenever a student dies, whether it be in an athletic situation or some other type of situation," said GHSA Executive Director Ralph Swearngin, in a statement regarding the deaths. "We are devastated to have had two students die after their involvement in football workouts, and we are concerned about the well-being of our athletes in the days to come."

GHSA's Swearngin said privacy laws prevent the association from discussing any medical information about the situations without the permission of the family. "I can say, however, that the GHSA staff is gathering facts about these situations to evaluate whether our current standards for conducting practices are adequate," he said. "The GHSA is beginning the third year of a comprehensive three-year study on heat illness and football participation that is being conducted around the state."

The study, explained Swearngin, is being conducted by Michael Ferrara at the University of Georgia in an attempt to get scientific data on the relationship of heat and football activities, in order to reduce the risk of heat illness during football workouts.

Glenn Jones said his son's funeral will be held Saturday, Aug. 6, at 11 a.m., in the Tara Garden Chapel. A viewing is set for Friday, Aug. 5, from 5 p.m., until 9 p.m., at Tara Garden, located at 681 North Ave., in Jonesboro.

A memorial service is planned for Thursday, Aug. 4, from 6 p.m., until 7 p.m., at Eagle's Landing First Baptist Church, located at 2400 Ga. Hwy. 42, in McDonough.

-- Staff writer Jason Smith contributed to this article.