The Facebook group “MOCO Rocks” isn’t just about finding neat and decorated stones around Morgan County.
It’s rooted in a much deeper story, which is about the relationship between Michael Rhodes and Brittany Smith.
The page was started by Mary Smith, who is Brittany’s mother. It was created in remembrance of the two former Morgan County High School students that tragically died in an automobile accident on April 23, 2017.
Both Michael and Brittany’s families were coming back from a spring break trip in Florida. The accident occurred in Putnam County, which was close to where both families lived.
Tracey Rhodes, Michael’s mother, recalls the day when it happened.
“We were almost home when we hydroplaned and struck another vehicle,” Rhodes said. “I don’t remember much. However, everyone else survived the accident, except Michael and Brittany.”
Michael and Brittany had been dating for nearly four years around the time of the accident. He was a senior in high school at Morgan County and was a month away from graduating. Meanwhile, she was a freshman taking classes at the UNG-Oconee campus in Watkinsville.
“It was a sad day for sure,” Rhodes said. “Michael and Brittany were the kinds of people who walked into a room and lit it up. They were both really into anything that had to do with churches.”
Michael was heavily involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) organization at Morgan County High School. He was also a football player for the Bulldogs. Brittany liked to sing in her local church choir. However, she also enjoyed working with children during Sunday School. The pair was also really into helping out the local community, which is why their deaths didn’t just affect the families, but rather Morgan County as a whole.
“Michael and Brittany were just all-around great kids,” Rhodes said. “They were both really goofy and cared for other people. They would bring a smile to everyone they encountered and that’s the idea behind the rocks. When people find them, we hope it makes people happy, which is what our kids did.”
The “MOCO Rocks” Facebook page has grown since its inception. The group now has over 2,400 members and it is growing. The rocks have also spread as far as Yosemite National Park in California, which is where a firefighter found a painted rock while he was helping put out forest fires in 2018.
“I had never painted a rock before in my life before then and I don’t think Mary (Smith) had done it, either,” Rhodes said. “I don’t think Michael or Brittany ever painted rocks before, but it is just something that keeps their memories alive. On the back of the rocks, we put a sticker with their hashtags. Michael’s hashtag is #AllInLikeMichael and Brittany’s is #LiveLikeBrit.”
Rhodes explained that besides the stickers, there are a lot of rocks laying around with the No's. 72 and 5 on the back.
“We have been asked many times what these numbers mean,” she said. “Michael played football at MCHS all throughout high school he wore No. 72. Brittany played softball all four years for the Lady Dogs and was No. 5. Both of their numbers were retired by the football and softball programs at MCHS. Also, at the football and softball fields, there are granite benches donated by Elite Stone with the etching done by Everlasting Granite.”
Rhodes said there have also been bracelets made for each of them.
“We have literally given out hundreds to anyone who wants one,” she added.
“When we see someone wearing these bracelets, even four-plus years after the accident, it means the world to us.”
Michael would be on the field during Friday nights in the fall for the Dogs, while Brittany was in the stands playing her instrument with the marching band. Michael was also a member of the Morgan County wrestling team. Brittany also played travel softball and was participated in classes at the Point of Grace Dance Academy.
“They were very active kids,” Rhodes said. “They were always there to support one another.”
The reason behind the #AllInLikeMichael hashtag was because he really wanted to be involved in everything possible. Brittany tried to be the best person she could be, so the hashtag #LiveLikeBritt was only fitting.
“Michael and Brittany’s first love was for the Lord,” Rhodes said. “Then followed by each other, their families, friends and the MOCO community.”
The rocks that are painted by members of Morgan County really do have a sentimental value in the hearts of the two families.
“It’s weird to have them gone, but we can’t imagine a situation where one couldn’t live without the other one,” Rhodes said. “It’s like they went to heaven together and remained together. We like to think that would be what would have happened if they were still here.”
The goal of the group is to not only honor both Brittany and Michael but to share the love with the community and keep their memories going.
“We have seen countless times where somebody finds a rock and that person will paint another rock to hide,” Rhodes said. “Mary or I will get a message sometimes where people ask us to send them the labels for the back. It’s so people know where to post them when they find them. We’ve kept it going for quite a while now.”
Both families are looking forward to celebrating Michael and Brittany’s anniversary, which is on Sept. 13.