Two trees were planted in honor of T.J. Jenkins and Andrew Sheppard at Shark Stadium. [ Wendy Weitzel | The Star ]
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‘Standing as sentinels’ — Trees planted at football field in remembrance of students lost

It’ll take about three years for the limbs of the two live oaks planted last week at Port St. Joe High School’s Shark Football Stadium to grow together, but when they do, school officials said, the effect will be powerful.

They will form a sort of tunnel, through which the players will run on their way to the field ahead of a game. Coming from the locker room, the gold painted rock, which players touch for luck before the game, is visible in the center of the two trees.

On their way there, Gulf District Schools Superintendent Jim Norton said, the team will be reminded of two of their teammates, who, although they will never again play on the Shark Stadium field, will “indelibly be linked to this tem and this school.”

Each tree was planted in remembrance of two Port St. Joe High School students who passed away following a single-car accident in May.

“Andrew Sheppard and T.J. Jenkins never got to experience their senior seasons, and they never got to walk across the stage at graduation,” Norton said. “Because of that, they will always be linked to this team and to this school, and when the players run between these two trees before a home game, they can be reminded of that.”

Jenkins, 18, would have been entering his senior year at Port St. Joe High School this year. He is remembered not only as a stellar athlete and a strong student, but as a leader within his teams and his school and a young man deeply dedicated to his faith and to his family.

Sheppard, 16, would have been entering his junior year, and his coaches say he was expected to take on leadership roles on his teams in the upcoming seasons.

Those who knew him described Sheppard as being a true problem solver and a hard worker. He was a member of both the school’s football and weightlifting teams and was known for his reserved but kind demeanor and his friendly smile.

Southern live oak trees live to be, on average, well over 60 years, with many specimens making it to be between 200 and 500 years old. 

The two trees planted, which were purchased with donations from Big Fish Construction, 98 Realty, Coca Cola, the Shark 100 Club and private members of the community, are about 15 years old and each stand about 20 feet tall at this time.

“These trees are going to be here for a long time,” said Norton, “maybe even longer than the stadium is here, standing as sentinels for decades to come.”

Meet the Editor

Wendy Weitzel, The Star’s digital editor, joined the news outlet in August 2021, as a reporter covering primarily Gulf County.

Prior to then, she interned for Oklahoma-based news wire service Gaylord News and for Oklahoma City-based online newspaper during her four years at the University of Oklahoma, from which she graduated in May with degrees in online journalism and political science.

While at OU, Weitzel was selected as Carnegie-Knight News21 Investigative Fellow among 30 top journalism students from around the country. She also was senior editor managing a 12-person newsroom in coordination with Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization in eastern Oklahoma.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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