They packed the stands on one side of the Effingham County High School gym Thursday night to overflowing, coming as friends, family, classmates and teammates to remember a friend, a teammate, a brother, a son.
Logan Shelton, a member of the ECHS state semifinal baseball team, died last Tuesday, three and a half months after being badly injured in an automobile accident in Pooler. The hundreds who gathered Thursday night, with a short candlelight vigil outside the gym to conclude the service.
He was laid to rest Saturday afternoon.
"We remember Logan, and as we do, we remember them, a message for us on Earth, to help each other, support each other and encourage each other as we go through life’s struggles," said Jeff Rollins, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Springfield. "We need each other as we go through this time of loss."
Jacoby Jones, the class president of the class of 2011, said he didn’t know Logan Shelton. But he understood what those in the gym were going through — three members of the
class of 2011 died as a result of auto accidents.
"It’s not an easy thing to deal with," said Jones. "And, no, it’s not going to get better today. It may not get better tomorrow. But one day at a time, the pain will begin to go away. We the classmates of 2011 can relate to you guys of 2012 how is it to lose classmate, how walking in the halls and not being able to see that face, how that feels. And no, it’s not an easy thing. But you have to take each day slowly and encourage each other."
Jones said his class drew closer together, as students who previously didn’t acknowledge each other’s presence would say hello to one another in the halls in the wake of the tragic accidents.
"I really feel the class of 2011 came closer together, not knowing when it was going to be someone else’s time to be called home to the Lord," he said. "Somebody asked me, ‘why does this keep happening’ and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ But everything that happens, happens for a reason."
Rollins said Shelton was "a simple country boy" and described why "Logan was loved by everyone here."
"God was with Logan throughout his 17 years on life," Rollins said. "He impacted, influenced and affected every one of us in such a mighty way. God was with Logan in the midst of his accident and in the three and half months that followed his accident, God was with Logan. And God is with him now."
Mark Shelton, Logan’s father, thanked the crowd and the community as a whole for their love and support over the last few months. Motioning his arms around the crowd, he called all those in attendance part of the Shelton family.
"I want to thank every single person in here for doing what they’ve done for my family and my son," he said. "The community is unbelievable."
Donna Shepard, who recited a poem she composed in Logan Shelton’s memory, also remarked on how the community rallied around the Shelton family and the Effingham County High School baseball team after the accident.
"We weren’t north Effingham or south Effingham — we came together as Effingham County and for one of our own," she said. "You are competitors but you are not enemies. They will have your back, and this community will have your back."
With members of the 2011 ECHS baseball team gathered behind him, Kerry Ward spoke on behalf of the team and what it was like to carry on in the state baseball playoffs while Logan Shelton was fighting to recover in a hospital.
"Our dugout wasn’t the same without him yelling and him cutting the fool. But we played for Logan and we missed him and we did it for him," said Ward, the Rebels starting third baseman on the state semifinal squad.
Ward and Shelton were throwing partners in practice and sometimes would squabble over who would have what duties. But in the days following the accident, Ward said their workouts just weren’t the same without Shelton.
"Nothing compares to the loss of a teammate," he said. "We spend more time with each other than we do our own families. We go to school for eight hours and we Logan and then we go to practice every day of the week. So pretty much seven days a week, we were with Logan.
"But seeing him everyday in the hospital bed, it was different," Ward continued. "You feel something indescribable; he was helpless and we couldn’t do anything for him. That first practice after the accident, it was empty. A teammate was missing and when a teammate’s not there, it’s not the team. I was wondering what to do. I didn’t know what to do."
On the night of the accident, Ward went to a movie and got a call that Logan had been in a wreck. He didn’t know how bad it was and then heard Shelton was in Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah. Ward and others went to the hospital and stayed throughout the night.
Rebels baseball coach Brett Griffin said when he became a teacher, he wanted to be the one to affect the lives of young people. It turns out, he said, they’ve had an effect on him.
"Since I came here to Effingham County and started to meet these baseball players who had hearts of gold, they impact my life than you will ever know," he said. "I hope one day as my son grows up that he can be a part of this because Logan was very special and he gave us something that is going to be hard to replace. This group of young men have bonded together. I’m just proud to say I knew Logan and he will be missed."
Ward said he will remember Shelton’s eyes and his smile and how his teammate loved the game of baseball, "the way he loved and the way we loved him." But they carried Shelton’s jersey on the road during the playoffs, hanging it in their dugout, and carried memories of Shelton painted on their faces and the field.
"It’s been tough," Ward noted of the last few months. "We lost one of our own, who’d been with us every day. He was our teammate. He loved us — we loved him. It was tough not having him with us like he was every day before the wreck. We fought through it for him."
Mark Shelton said he had two special moments his life — seeing Logan taking his first breath and seeing his son take his last breath. But he also told the crowd he didn’t want them to dwell on Logan’s passing last week.
"We want them to cherish the 17 great years he gave me and his two brothers and his mom and all of you guys," he said.