NEW LEXINGTON — On Friday evening, Oct. 16, the football locker room for the New Lexington Panthers was dedicated to a young man who never had the opportunity to hang his jersey on the wall. Now that jersey will hang on the entrance of The B.J. Padgett Memorial Locker Room, now known as “The 88.”
B.J. collapsed and died following a 7th grade football practice on Sept. 29, 1998, robbing him of making a contribution in Jim Rockwell Stadium as a varsity football player. However, his legacy has impacted the Panther football program like no influence before or since he last wore his #88 jersey.
Anthony Stephens, New Lexington Athletic Director, opened the dedication ceremony by welcoming the crowd in attendance and introducing the evening’s speakers that included the superintendent of the New Lexington School District, two former teammates and a former Panthers’ head football coach now working as Director of Operations for the district.
B.J.’s former teammates, Jordan Hatem and Tyler Huffman, remembered their friend as only teammates can. While Jordan’s presentation was very brief and full of emotion, Huffman gave an eloquent speech that lasted several minutes. He was the quarterback who received the snap from B.J.
“Everyone loved B.J. and he never met a stranger,” expressed Tyler. He went on to explain that his years as a varsity football player at New Lexington were full of highlights. Big games, MVL championships, playoffs victories, but he told the crowd the most memorable moment for him was the game on his senior night.
“The game didn’t have much meaning for us, but it’s my favorite memory because that was the first game Debbie had attended since B.J.’s passing.” Tyler was speaking of Debbie Padgett, B.J.’s mother.
“It was B.J.’s senior night too,” explained Tyler. He also revealed the secret of who skipped class to paint the 88 and B.J. on the field, saying “I don’t think Coach Nutt would still be mad about it.”
Before he relinquished the podium, Tyler recognized Bill and Debbie Padgett for turning a tragedy into so much good for New Lexington sports. Only a few months after losing B.J., the Padgett family suffered another loss when their daughter Kelli was killed in an automobile crash.
“B.J. would tell me ‘I’m gonna make you famous, Huffie,’ and I know he meant it,” said the former quarterback.
When it was Dave Rupe’s turn to address the crowd, he directed his comments directly to Bill and Debbie Padgett. Rupe, Director of Operations for the district, spoke with the emotion only a parent contemplating such a terrible loss could express. Being the former football coach at New Lexington made his comments even more solemn.
“Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us, so I would say to everyone here, ‘Cherish every moment,’” said Rupe as he concluded his tribute to the Padgett family.
When the tarp was removed from the wall protecting the locker room door, the picture revealed a bigger than life photo of B.J. Padgett on team picture day. This dressing room that will be home for Panther football players for years to come will now be known as “The 88” in honor of one of their own.