I did not know Jonathan Hartman. I knew he was an athlete and solid student at Harlem High School, but I had never met the young man. I now realize that not knowing him was my loss.
I know that because in the wake of his death following a one-vehicle wreck, I have had a chance to hear from the people who did know him. There is always an outpouring of love when we lose a young person, but this has been different. This was genuine heartache from people who truly loved Johnny. People were expressing admiration for a young man who everyone seemed to think the world of.
I had to fight back tears reading a text message from Harlem head basketball coach Kim Chambers. He was simply telling me what the young man meant to him and how sad the entire community was.
I already knew how special Hartman was to Chambers. Early in the
season, Harlem was getting plenty of press because of a star freshman. The attention was something the team was not accustomed to receiving.
During the height of the media surge, I got an email from Chambers. In my 15 years on the radio, and 12 years or so doing this column, Chambers had never asked me to do a story on a player. Most every coach I have been around has asked me to give a deserving player some publicity. I actually appreciate it when coaches do this. They see these kids every day, and they know best when a kid deserves some positive press.
In his email, Chambers thanked me for the coverage, but wondered if I could give a couple of players some recognition who did the little things that helped Harlem get off to such a good start.
One of those kids was Hartman. Chambers raved about his heart and how he did everything asked of him. He talked about how Hartman covered guys 4 or 5 inches taller than him, but fought for every rebound and gave 100 percent for his team. I thought then that it was great to see a coach who had such appreciation for one of his players. Little did I know that email would pale in comparison to the correspondence I would get in the months to come.
All afternoon I had heard radio accounts of a terrible wreck in Columbia County but never realized the effect it would have on our community.
How could anyone know that an 18-year-old could have had such a positive affect on so many people? The rock at Harlem High School was painted blue and orange in honor of Hartman, who was a huge Florida Gators fan. The students did the same thing at his spot in the school parking lot.
I had heard about the displays of affection, but it really hit me when I got a message from Chambers. He had got wind that we were discussing Hartman on the Austin Rhodes Show and sent me the following note.
“Thanks for the kind words. Yes, I am crushed! I loved this boy like my own son. He meant so much to our school, athletics, and community. He was one of those kids you talk about for years. Some people make movies about kids like Jonathan. We as coaches admired him for his hard work, dedication and commitment.
“My family, our 10-year-old son, are just in shock over this tragedy. I can’t stop crying. This kid was the ultimate young man. As someone once said, ‘He was the top of the line,’ and so were his parents. The best! …”
I hope his family can take some solace in the fact that they raised such a fine young man.
There are plenty of
people, great people, who live into their 80s and who will not affect so many others in such a positive way.