Baseball dream trip to PCB ends in living nightmare – WJHG

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) -The Panama City Beach Sports Complex is known to bring in teams and players from all over the country to compete. For one team that made the trek to the that park, what was a productive baseball trip ended in a tragic turn of events.
Over the holidays, the Panama City Beach Sports Complex was bustling with people. 170 teams from nearly every state in America came out to compete for Gameday USA’s New Year’s Baseballfest.
“For our boys, they waited all summer for this tournament to come up. They were looking forward to it.” said David Neece, the father of one of the players on the Oklahoma ball team.
A few players from Moore, Oklahoma made their way to the beach in hopes of ringing in the New Year with a championship, and they did.
“They were constantly talking about how much fun they were having. They had a great time while they were there.”
Nearly a thousand miles to play the game they loved and maybe get a few looks from scouts at the next level.
After five days of competition, the team went 5-0 winning the 18U division. Championship trophy in tow, the teens loaded up and made their way back to their home state. After over 15 hours of driving, tragedy struck. Around 3 a.m., just minutes from home, a van carrying five players rolled over, leaving three passengers in critical condition and one, 18 year old, Gabriel Williams, dead.
“We spent countless hours together through team meals or just on the field, in the dugout talking to each other.” said teammate David Neece. “It’s kind of like a priceless memory that you can’t have back once they’re gone.”
David grew up with Gabriel. He was also in the van, but managed to come out of the wreck with minor injuries. His father Albert spent years coaching the two together. Now, they, and those in their community are working to keep Gabriel’s memory alive.
“We’ve had tornadoes come through here and tear our town apart.” Albert told me. “We’ve always pulled together as a community, and this is no different. People have been reaching out to us from the high schools. The athletic director calls us every day. We’ve had people from churches call us, counseling centers. Everybody in the community has called and come together.”
As David’s senior season looms, he will honor Gabriel on the diamond.
“I think I’m going to take over his number for the year and we are going to do something for the jersey. Whatever jersey color everyone else is wearing, I’m going to wear the opposite. I’m going to wear his number. I’m going to try to put his initials on my hat, on my wrist tape. I’m going to try to do everything I can for him, and I know he’s watching.”
Friends for life, sadly one of those lives cut too short.
A fund has been created to help with hospital expenses for the boys in critical condition and Gabriel’s funeral expenses. If you wish to donate, click right here.
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