Many students at Harlem High School on Wednesday abandoned the traditional red and black of the Bulldogs in favor of the blue and orange colors of Florida Gator fans to honor a fallen classmate.
Harlem High senior Johnny Hartman died Tuesday evening following a single-car crash in Appling. Authorities say the 18-year-old ran off Scotts Ferry Road, over-corrected, then flipped the Toyota 4Runner several times before hitting a tree.
The wreck occurred about 3 p.m., and Columbia County Deputy Coroner Bonnie Holloway said Hartman died about seven hours later at Medical College of Georgia Hospital from head trauma. Sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said Hartman was wearing a seatbelt and there were no indications he was using his cell phone at the time of the crash.
Knowing Hartman to be an avid fan of the University of Florida, Harlem students wore the Gator colors to memorialize their friend.
"He was just such a great young man," said Hartman's basketball coach Kim Chambers, who wore an orange T-shirt and a khaki cap bearing the Gators logo. "He was the kind of kid you'd want your daughter to date."
Though he played basketball, football and tennis, Chambers described Hartman as an athlete with average skills. What made Hartman special, Chambers added, was his willingness to give all he had every time he stepped onto the court.
"That's why I gave him the Coach's Award (this past season)," Chambers said. "He always gave it his all. He didn't seek out any glory. He just did what he could to help his team win."
Chambers' team signed a basketball Wednesday in honor of Hartman and later intends to give it to his parents, which include Kiokee Baptist Church Rev. Steve Hartman.
"God got a new angel (Tuesday)," Chambers said of the teen he described as someone of strong Christian faith.
Hartman's death came just 11 days before his high school graduation. Several of his classmates wrote notes to Hartman on a large orange banner in the school's commons area. They intend to take the banner with them to their graduation ceremony May 19.
Among the first to sign the banner was Harlem High basketball and soccer star Jade Cotton.
The 18-year-old said she had known Hartman since the seventh grade, but got to be really good friends with him this school year as they sat next to each other in a class.
"When I first heard about it (the crash), I was really worried," Cotton said as she fought tears. "Later, when I found out he died, I just broke down and cried.
"He had just raised the money to go on our senior trip to Panama City (Fla.). We were all so happy he was going to go."
School system psychologists helped Harlem High counselors Wednesday work with students and teachers to help manage their grief.
"All the kids loved him, but so did all his teachers," said Harlem High Principal Dietmar Perez. "He was a fabulous young man."
A popular student, Hartman was named Harlem High's Prom King last month.
"He was so good to everybody. I don't think there was anybody who didn't like him," said Harlem High safety officer Mike Leverett. "Even the bad kids liked him."