It is no secret that Florida is the lightning capital of the world. From 2005-2014, a total of 322 people died to lightning strikes in the U.S. and Florida lead the number of deaths with 47, according a study by Vaisala Inc. The worst year was in 2007 when 11 people died in Florida, six in South Florida alone.
On October 3rd, 2012, a group of sixth grade boys clad in football pads headed out to the field in driving rain. This was supposed to be another football practice for the middle school football team in Fort Myers, but it was all about to change. Jesse Watlington was struck by lightning on the way to the football field and died three days after the accident in the hospital. The unfortunate circumstances left Jesse’s family sad yet hopeful for the future. They immediately began the Jesse Watlington Memorial Foundation with a mission to get 50 Christian schools new state of the art lightning detection systems.
“It is our belief that no family should experience what we have,” Said Chuck Watlington, Jesse’s father. “We want to allow Jesse to live on through these donations and to protect students everywhere. Our mission is to protect kids, by donating the WeatherBug system.”
WeatherBug Lightning System
With nearly 1,800 students participating in various athletic events, P.E. classes and extracurricular activities five days a week, Calvary Christian Academy (CCA) was pleased to be one of the first schools chosen to receive a WeatherBug Lightning Alert System from the Jesse Watlington Memorial Foundation. The system is currently installed on the roof of the school’s campus and is in full operation.
Tom Peters. Assistant principal of CCA, said, “As a school we place our student’s safety first. I am very thankful for this donation and have seen it work.”
As a gesture of thanks, CCA invited Chuck Watlington and his wife Alda to the District Baseball game on April 15th, where Chuck was honored to throw out the first pitch.
The WeatherBug System is used by many professional sports teams around the nation, by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and has satellites all over with up to the second updates.
The Watlington’s have donated $500,000 plus dollars worth of equipment already, and intend on increasing their reach to other private Christian schools.
“It wasn’t a hard decision for us to make this Foundation,” Said Alda Watlington, Jesse’s mother. “We believe that The Lord wants His children protected, and Jesse’s story will inspire many schools to want to seek further protection. Jesse was called home, and through his death, his story is serving to the Glory of God.”
Many schools were very open and happy to receive the new WeatherBug donation, and even happier that they can play a part in protecting their students.
Andy Holz, Athletic Director of Coral Springs Christian Academy (CSCA)., which also received one of the systems, said, “I would love to say that we could’ve afforded it on our own, but that is just not the case. We needed this donation, and it is by the grace of God we received it.”
While public schools receive state funding for these systems, private schools are on their own.
Coral Springs Christian Academy, like many schools, previously used a lightning detector nearby that was owned and operated by the city. However these lightning detectors aren’t as effective as the WeatherBug systems, and that’s what CSCA was concerned about. The Watlington’s daughter, Carolina, previously attended pre-school at CSCA, which gave the family a desire to contribute to the school.
Jupiter Christian School, of West Palm Beach, also received the WeatherBug. “It is funny, when I contacted Mr. (Keith) Huisman, he seemed to be very excited. He jumped at the opportunity to install this system, even willing to help install it,” said Chuck Watlington. “It was good to know someone was excited about keeping their students safe.” Keith Huisman assisted Berean Christian School in getting the WeatherBug system as well and said he believes it is a necessity for all schools to have such a system.
How can I help?
The Jesse Watlington Memorial Foundation has donated WeatherBug systems to 27 schools so far. They hope to reach a goal of 50 schools, and doing so requires much help. Each school costs around $10,000 for the system, installation and the first year maintenance fee. The Jesse Watlington Memorial Foundation has offered to pay those expenses for the school, so that the school has the system in place.
If you would like to donate or get involved with the Jesse Watlington Memorial Foundation, you can go to www.lightningfoundation.org. The Jesse Watlington Memorial Foundation wants everyone to know that all donations go straight to the cause. Foundation directors receive no pay for time helping the foundation.
This Article is dedicated to Jesse Watlington.
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20, NLT).
Geoffrey Still is an intern with Good News, student editor of Calvary Christian Academy’s SOAR.ccaeagles.org and founder of the “Crusader Corner” at Coral Springs Christian Academy.