A former standout athlete and beloved Willard assistant coach died Saturday in a hunting accident, the head football coach confirmed.
Justin Atchison, 24, was an assistant coach for the high school’s baseball and football teams.
Head coach Brock Roweton said he got word Saturday that Atchison had died in a hunting accident on the first day of the firearms season.
“From coaches, to parents, to players, everybody is completely heartbroken,” Roweton said through tears on Sunday morning.
Roweton said Atchison was the quarterback and a standout pitcher at Willard before playing two years of collegiate baseball at Evangel University. After a shoulder injury, Atchison turned his focus to coaching.
Roweton said Atchison was a natural.
“If you were ever around him and the kids, he constantly just had a group around him,” Roweton said. “He was like a big brother to many of the kids.”
Roweton said Atchison was a hardworking young man who was passionate about sports.
On Sunday, Roweton recalled a recent time that Atchison accompanied Roweton’s son on a hunting trip, just hoping to be there if the boy took a deer.
Roweton said he had heard from a lot of players this weekend who were trying to process their grief.
“He was loved by a lot of people,” Roweton said.
Kevin Samsel, battalion chief with the Willard Fire Protection District, confirmed the incident happened at about 3:30 p.m. just north of Cave Spring off Farm Road 81.
Samsel said Mercy paramedics were on scene when his crew arrived, and the Greene County Sheriff’s Office is handling the investigation.
Scott McGee, Willard head baseball coach, said Atchison was one of the school’s best baseball players ever and was becoming a great coach, as well.
“He impacted so many people in small ways,” McGee said. “Everyone is going to miss him.”
McGee said Atchison had the two qualities necessary to be a great coach — strong work ethic and an ability to truly care for every player.
McGee remembered times that Atchison spent all day out on the baseball field and then didn’t hesitate to help a high schooler work on his hitting after practice — even though Atchison should have been home hours earlier.
“If you needed something at midnight on a Wednesday, he would be there,” McGee said. “He would do anything for anybody.”
McGee said Atchison was studying to become a science teacher and also spent time working on a farm.
Atchison has been a constant presence at school and community events over the last decade, McGee said. Now, the head coach is grappling with the idea that his friend is gone.
“It feels like we lost him 60 years too early,” McGee said.
More: Captain during duck boat tragedy indicted on 17 counts of ‘seaman’s manslaughter’
More: Homicides are up in Springfield. But has 2018 been a record year?