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Brewton-Parker College freshman wrestler LaVon Woods drowns in river

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LaVon Woods, a freshman wrestler who had just completed orientation at Georgia’s Brewton-Parker College, drowned while swimming with his new teammates in the Oconee River according to multiple media reports Friday. He was 18.

Known as “Xavier”, Woods signed a scholarship to wrestle at Brewton-Parker on April 28 and had only begun attending the school a week ago.

Wheeler County sheriff Maurice Johnson told the Columbus (Georgia) “Ledger-Enquirer” that the former Hardaway High School wrestler was with some of his Brewton-Parker teammates after orientation when he began to struggle in the river’s current. The others were unable to rescue him, and called emergency services.

Woods’ body was recovered near the area he was last seen about 9 p.m. Thursday.

Johnson said there would be an investigation, but added there were no immediate indications the incident was anything but a “tragic accident.”

As a senior at Hardaway, Woods was second-team All-Bi-City in 2014 after going 40-10. He placed fifth in the 170-pound weight class at the Georgia high school state wrestling championships.

Woods’ coach at Hardaway, Kevin Noviello, now a teacher and coach at Valdosta Middle School, told the “Ledger-Enquirer” that he considered himself to be a father figure for the wrestler.

“I’ve been looking at a cover of him in ‘In the Game Magazine’, just reliving some moments,” Noviello said on Friday. “One of my fondest memories -- he sent me a Happy Father’s Day text and included a picture of he and I at the state wrestling tournament…. On the last day of school for the seniors last year, he brought me a picture. On the back, it said, ‘You’ve been like a father to me and I want to thank you.’”

"No words can describe the pain we are feeling due to the loss of Lavon Xavier Woods,” Hardaway High principal Matt Bell said in a statement on the school's website Friday, according to WTVM-TV. “Xavier tragically drowned late Thursday afternoon during a swimming outing at Brewton-Parker College. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for everyone affected by this sad loss."

Woods’ college expressed similar sentiments at its homepage: “No words describe the pain our Brewton-Parker College family feels for the family and friends of incoming freshman, Lavon Woods of Columbus, Georgia. Mr. Woods tragically drowned during a swimming outing late Thursday afternoon. Several students planned the outing in order to celebrate the successful conclusion of orientation week. We are devastated by the news, and the College extends to both the family and friends of Mr. Woods its deepest and sincerest sympathy. Brewton-Parker College is a family, and this tragedy affects us all. Thank you for your thoughts and prayers for those affected by this sad loss.”

A memorial fund has been established to honor LaVon Xavier Woods. Donations may be made online.

Brewton-Parker College is a four-year Christian college located in Mount Vernon, Georgia in the south-central part of the state, about halfway between Macon and Savannah. According to the school’s website, Brewton-Parker is affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Woods’ drowning is at least the second such incident involving a college wrestler this summer. In early July, 20-year-old Virginia Tech wrestler Darren Hankins drowned in a water-filled quarry near Blacksburg, Va.

Nearly one year ago, tragedy struck the wrestling squad of another southern Georgia college. In early September 2013, three Darton State wrestlers collapsed during outdoor workouts in Albany, Georgia. One, Ben Richards, died from organ failure nine days after suffering heat exhaustion.

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