LaFAYETTE, Ga. - LaFayette High School's Jack King Stadium will host one of its most important events tonight when this small-town, working-class community gets together to help the family of injured athlete Austin Whitten.
The rising sophomore three-sport athlete was injured in a swimming accident over the weekend and is currently paralyzed from the chest down. According to LaFayette basketball coach Tommy Swanson, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Whitten is in the ICU ward at Erlanger Medical Center after undergoing a pair of surgeries.
"The doctors are waiting for the swelling to go down in the spinal chord before they can determine how severe the injury is," Swanson said. "It's awful ... it really hits you in the gut when something like this happens to a kid like Austin. I mean, his life changed in an instant."
Donations will be accepted at the benefit, which will begin at 6 p.m., to help offset medical bills. Area churches are invited to attend in place of their evening services and the event will be recorded for Whitten.
Swanson expects a huge turnout for Whitten, who does have some feeling in his arms and is, according to the coach, in good spirits.
"We're praying for a miracle, to be honest," Swanson said. We're all in shock, but from talking to Austin's parents I hear he's as upbeat as he can be. He's so strong and such a good athlete and I have to feel that will work in his favor. I don't care if he ever plays another minute or another down. If he can walk out of that hospital, it would be amazing."
Football coach Tab Gable echoed those thoughts and as of late Tuesday had reason to be optimistic concerning Whitten's future.
"Obviously, there are still questions about the spinal chord, but the doctors said the chord was bruised and not severed," said Gable. "The next big thing is to get him into rehab, which is something they want to do as quickly as possible. As strong as he is I just believe he'll be able to walk."
Donations can also be made at the Bank of LaFayette, where an account in Whitten's name has been set up.