The LaFayette community used the night to show their love and support for Austin Whitten, a 15-year-old rising sophomore and a three-sport athlete, who was seriously injured in a swimming accident over the June 8 weekend.
Whitten has undergone surgery and remains hospitalized. Reports says that while he does have some use of his arms, he could be facing permanent paralysis from the chest down.
Signs covered the fences surrounding the stadium's track in support of Whitten, while many in the crowd brought in their own homemade posters to express their love for Whitten and his family.
Several speakers addressed the crowd during the hour-long event, including Austin's older brother, Taylor Whitten.
"Austin's not going anywhere and he didn't die," Whitten said. "He's just a little limited right now, but I don't think he's going to stay down for long. I believe God has a miracle in store for him. Whether it's walking again, just wiggling (his legs), or even if he's in a wheelchair the rest of his life, we're going to get a blessing out of this.
"He's a strong kid, very strong in God, and I don't think this is going to even come close to getting him down. This (night) is overwhelming. I never thought there were this many people that knew Austin like this. It's just awesome to see and I'm appreciative of what they are doing. I just want to say thank you to everyone for everything. It's amazing how much everyone cares about my brother and I love each and every single person here."
Several singers performed, including local church choirs members, and the majority of the crowd gathered on the field at the end of the night for a prayer. Whitten's father, Brian, was in attendance, wearing his son's No. 8 football jersey, and was greeted by the entire Rambler football team as well as many others who attended the ceremony.
LaFayette High School principal Mike Culberson said he was pleased with the turnout for the event.
"For this time of year, with summer here, people going on vacation, and a lot of other things pulling people in different directions, I was real pleased with the crowd," he said. "A lot of people that couldn't be here tonight sent me messages and said they were going to stop whatever they were doing at 6 p.m. to pray for Austin, whether they were here or not."
Recent LaFayette graduate Jordan Teems sung a song to Austin, which was recorded as part of a video of the event that will later be given to Whitten. Teems called Whitten's character "unbreakable".
"He has such a faith in God and there's just something really special about him that you get the first time you meet him," Teems said. "I know seeing all these people here tonight means a lot to the family, but it also shows what an impact (Austin) has had on this community and everyone he comes in contact with. I just want to tell him that I love him and that I'm proud of him for the Christian he is."
Also addressing the crowd was Clay Powell, the pastor at Ridgeway Baptist Church in LaFayette. He also spoke highly of Whitten's character and convictions.
"Austin is a great kid," he said. "He's very outgoing, loves people and has a great personality. He's struggling right now, but we are all praying he can come out of it. I'm sure he'll go through more ups and downs with this, but he's a fighter and he'll find a way to overcome this. Whether he walks again or not, Austin will find a way to win."
"This whole town has really come together for Austin," said LaFayette High School basketball coach Tommy Swanson. "We're just praying there's a miracle out there for him. Right now, he's stable and in good spirits, so we just hope he keeps improving and one day we'll see him get up and walk out on this field again."
"You hear about things like this happening to other people in other places, but when it happens in your house, you have to really dig deep," said LaFayette High head football coach Tab Gable. "We're going to stay behind Austin, but he's still young and strong, and I believe everything will work out."
Gable said Whitten's current situation is a good teaching tool for the rest of his players.
"Sometimes we take life and health for granted, but this has brought it back to real life for us," he said. "Like I was telling the kids this morning, if we're doing things right, then we can learn a lot by going through tough times. Whether it's in practice or in games, you just have to keep fighting, and it's the same way in life. Bad things will happen as you keep getting older, but you just have to keep fighting, keep believing, and keep praying. If we can teach them that, then we've done our job.
"Austin is an unusual kid. He's way ahead of his age in the fact that he's already at about 6-foot-5 and close to 240 pounds, along with being a good athlete and leader. He's mature in some ways, but inside, he's still that little boy. He's the type of kid you just love being around. He has God-given size and talent. I just hope he'll still be able to do something with those gifts later on, and I know he'll work hard to rehab. Plus, he's just a good Christian boy and he's not ashamed of that."
The football team also walked through the bleachers, using their helmets to take up donations for the Whitten family, and school personnel say that a total of more than $18,000 was collected during the event.
An account has been set up at The Bank of LaFayette for Whitten and his family. It is open to anyone wishing to make a donation to help offset the costs of medical expenses, travel money, and other needs.
In addition, the LaFayette High School JROTC will hold a car wash and bake sale to benefit the Whitten family on Saturday, June 23, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at O’Reilly Auto Parts on North Main Street in LaFayette. All donations will be accepted.