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Pirates #32 Dylan Thomas passes away, draws national attention

After Pirates football player Dylan Thomas, 17, was hurt in Friday night’s game, thousands came together to pray – and to comfort his family after he passed away Sunday night. ’My heart is broken today and a hole has been made which can never be filled,’ said his mother Shannon Burgess Thomas. ‘Dylan’s faith was as strong as his heart. Pike County was Dylan’s home and there is no place on earth he’d rather be. We love all of you.’ The junior was an active member of the Class of 2020 and he played baseball as well as football. He was the son of Shannon Burgess Thomas and Darren Thomas and brother of Ashley Westbrook. As Thomas was taken off the field in an ambulance – ending the game early – players and coaches from both teams knelt to pray. Due to weather conditions, he was transported via ambulance to Wellstar Spalding Regional and then by life flight to Grady, where he died around 8 p.m. Sunday after two surgeries to reduce the swelling of his brain. More than $30,000 has been raised to help the family through online fundraisers. Many other fundraisers are ongoing. A prayer vigil was held for him, his family, his classmates and fellow football players Sunday evening and more than 1,000 gathered to pray together, including visitors from other counties who had never met him. ’We may come from different churches and different backgrounds, but when tragedies like this occur, we come together as one,’ said pastor Billy Smith. Members of the team, the band and family and friends are also collecting funds and items to help the family. A gofundme.com account has been set up for him. The Pirates football team joined arms at the vigil as they carried his jersey onto the field Sunday night. Dylan’s uncle, Nick Burgess, shook hands with each player and asked them to play hard for him because that’s what he would have wanted. The team knelt to say the Lord’s prayer and sing. Then the entire crowd surrounded them and a special prayer was said. Football players from Peach County and teams from area schools attended the vigil to show their support. Many students and players were still at the field when news of his passing was shared and local pastors ministered to them. Counselors were available Monday morning for PCHS students struggling with the tragedy. Dylan’s story has been shared across the nation and many from other states are praying for the family and students as well. Athletic directors from area schools are getting #32 jerseys and having students sign them and they will be present at his funeral. Superintendent Dr. Michael Duncan, athletic director James Stanford and head coach Brad Webber spoke during a press conference held Monday, Oct. 1. ’Our hearts hurt for Dylan, his family and his friends,’ said Dr. Duncan, noting that the school will continue to provide counseling for those most affected. Dr. Duncan said during the third quarter, the referee stopped play and Dylan walked from the field and was coherent and able to speak. He initially said he suffered a leg injury. As he was being examined further, he became unresponsive. Athletic director Stanford said the ambulance was on site in a matter of minutes. ’Dylan was one of the finest young men I’ve ever known in my life,’ said coach Webber. ‘He was one of my son’s best friends. He earned a starting spot this season. He was an incredible young man with a work ethic you can’t belive. He was the heart and soul of our defense. It’s devastating.’ Coach Webber said many have reviewed video of the game, but there was no obvious collision or tackle that would have resulted in the severe brain injury. Webber said Dylan was wearing a Riddell SpeedFlex 5-Star helmet which is one of the best helmets money can buy. He said it’s a helmet used by most NFL and collegiate football players. He said he had never witnessed an injury like Dylan’s in the 30 years that he has coached at the college and high school level and he was overcome with emotion several times while speaking about Dylan. Coach Webber was asked if the team will play Friday and he said they are still taking the loss hour by hour. Moody-Daniel Funeral Home will be in charge of arrangements. Additional details and obituary information will be posted online at pikecountygeorgia.com when available.

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