It’s been seven months since Northeast Lauderdale alumnus Hunter Garrett was taken from this world much too soon, and for the people closest to him, I doubt it’s gotten any easier.
The worst loss I’ve ever experienced was when my father was laid to rest in October 2016 after a year-long battle with cancer. They say you never really get over losing a parent, that you just learn to make room for the grief, and that’s mostly proven true for me over time. Still, when a parent holds their offspring in their arms for the first time, the expectation isn’t that you’ll one day have to bury that offseason. It’s supposed to be them that one day buries you.
Scott Garrett is one of the nicest people you’ll meet in Meridian, and since covering high school sporting events is part of my job, it’s not uncommon for me to get to know some of our local athletes’ parents. When I found out Hunter had been killed in a car accident in early December of last year, the news stung not just because he had so much life ahead of him, but also because I couldn’t imagine what Scott was going to be going through, both in the immediate aftermath and the long-term future.
This past spring semester, the Northeast Lauderdale baseball team decided to honor Hunter’s memory by rewarding one of its players with a scholarship named after him. He played baseball for the Trojans in high school, and the scholarship was a way for the team to honor someone that left a major impression on everyone who played for the team. The 2019 recipient was Will Temple, who graduated from Northeast Lauderdale in May and was a friend of Hunter’s since the two were in elementary school.
“I had no clue it was going to happen,” Temple told me. “It’s something that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I couldn’t be more honored. I had no idea I was even nominated. It’s one of the best things that ever happened in my life. A scholarship in his name is really touching.”
Those are strong words to hear from anyone when discussing another person, but when I spoke to Temple on Sunday, he couldn’t stop talking about Hunter and the impression his friend had made on his life. When a person dies, it’s not uncommon for something to be done in their honor, but Temple said it was fitting the baseball team named a scholarship after Hunter after the way he impacted his teammates and classmates at Northeast Lauderdale.
“The thing about Hunter was that everyone loved him,” Temple explained. “When something (tragic) like this happens, that’s what people say, but I’m not lying.”
He went on to explain that whether it was friends, family of friends, teachers, Northeast Lauderdale faculty, Hunter wasn’t easily forgotten. As an outside observer, the thing that stood out the most to me about Hunter when I watched him play both soccer and baseball in 2018 was the long, bleached blonde hair he grew out during his senior year. To people who actually knew him, though, it’s clear there was much more to Hunter than the unique look.
“He knew when someone was upset and was always there when you needed him,” Temple said. “People loved him so much because of the light that he was. He was very thoughtful — he felt bad for people and wanted to be there for them.”
When a laugh was needed, Hunter was more than willing to provide that, too.
“He was very funny,” Temple said. “He loved to joke and have fun with situations.”
As a teammate on the baseball team, Temple described Hunter as a relentless competitor who happened to be the best bunter he had ever seen. But while some athletes might act super-serious, it was always apparent that Hunter was having fun whenever he played, Temple said. What stood out the most to Temple, though, was how Hunter would ask an underclassman to go fetch a foul ball and return it in an encouraging, rather than a bossy, manner.
For those who may not know, tasks like running to get a foul ball or going to fetch water for one of the starters typically falls on freshmen as part of their initiation into team culture. Some older players might use that as an excuse to boss around younger players, but Hunter wasn’t like that, Temple said. It’s why everyone on the team admired him.
“All the younger guys loved him,” Temple said. “He took leadership in a different way than others would have. He was really polite with them about it.”
Temple isn’t alone in his description of Hunter. When I spoke to former Northeast Lauderdale baseball coach Josh Snider back in December, he described Hunter as someone who never complained and always put his teammates before himself. Matt Castleberry, who was Northeast Lauderdale’s soccer coach when Hunter played for the Trojans, said Hunter had a “contagious laugh and smile” whose humor could lighten people’s moods instantly.
I asked Scott Garrett what it meant to him to know the Trojans baseball team set up a scholarship named after his son. For Scott, it’s a reminder of what people told him about his son — that Hunter was someone who always tried to help his younger teammates.
“His coaches said he would always show the younger ones how to properly do things,” Scott Garrett said. “Nothing will replace having Hunter at home but knowing his name will live on with this scholarship and that it will help someone else’s son go to college is a comfort. I want everyone to remember his constant smile and big heart that he had. He never met a stranger, and he always said ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No ma’am’ to everyone.”
In talking to the people who knew him best, both in the immediate aftermath of his passing and now, it’s clear Hunter made the most with the time he had. Hunter was taken from this world too soon, no question, but it doesn’t seem like he was be forgotten anytime soon. That speaks to someone who made the most of the time on earth he had.
Drew Kerekes is the sports editor at The Meridian Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.