The camouflage, designed to blend into an environment, stood out like a sore thumb in the Brookstone School gymnasium Tuesday night.
Pacelli and Brookstone’s opposing student sections, typically sporting traditional red and blue attire for their respective schools, were instead decked out head to foot in dark earth tones — rivals, brought together under the same banner.
A literal banner hanging over the Brookstone bleacher said it all:
“Brookstone (heart)’s the Jacobs’!”
It was all done in honor of Mikey Jacobs, a former multi-sport star at Pacelli, who died of cancer on Monday after more than a year battling the disease.
Jacobs was an all-state kicker for the Vikings football team in 2011 and earned the nod as the Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City boys soccer player of the year the same season. He was also a member of the golf team and a loyal outdoorsman.
He suffered from signet ring cell adenocarcinoma for more than a year, learning of the disease around Thanksgiving 2012. He had two surgeries and nine months of chemotherapy, but his father, Tom, said none of the treatments were able to stop the disease.
“It was very aggressive,” he said. “We learned around Christmas that it was incurable. At that point, we initiated comfort care. We’ve been praying for a peaceful death, and he had one yesterday.”
Mikey leaves behind Tom, his father, and mother, Wendy, three brothers — Chris, Kevin and Johnny — and a legacy of determination and happiness.
Crossing the lines
Mikey Jacobs had a way of touching people.
That description, given by Tom, is further represented by the outpouring of support from his Vikings community and beyond. A search on Twitter and Facebook reveals pages of messages left to him and his family from friends and well-wishers. He spent time with Vikings and Cougars and was as comfortable on a golf course in a polo as he was in the woods in camouflage.
“Mikey went beyond groups,” Tom said. “He didn’t look at somebody as a Cougar or as a Viking. He looked at them as a person. He had a lot of friends in both places.”
During a 2011 season in which the soccer team had only two seniors, Vikings coach Mike Dempsey said younger players gravitated toward him. It wasn’t an outspoken leadership, perhaps, but a personality that just endeared him to others.
“Guys wanted to be near him,” Dempsey said. “He didn’t talk too much or demand the ball. He just had a humble workmanlike approach.”
David Blanton, the vice president of television productions at Realtree, where Mikey worked during the year following his diagnosis, said they hired him to give him a place to go during the days after his family determined he could no longer attend college.
Instead, Blanton said, they were the ones who benefitted from his presence.
“We were all touched by his humor, passion for life and his abilities,” he said. “His outgoing personality was incredible. He’d come in some days after breaking out from the radiation he was taking, and it wouldn’t even slow him down. He’d sit at lunch with us some days when he couldn’t even eat. He’d just sit and talk and laugh.”
A phenomenal athlete
While his outlook during the toughest of circumstances may be his lasting legacy, coaches were quick to talk about his abilities on the field of play as well.
Pacelli athletic director Alan Griffin, who was a member of the football coaching staff when Mikey played, praised his abilities. “He was good at everything,” Griffin said. “He could pick it up so easily.”
Whether it was kicking, which he picked up late in his sophomore year and earned an eventual all-state bid, soccer, where he was All-Bi-City player of the year in 2011, or basketball, which Griffin tried in vain to get Mike to play while he was in school.
“Mikey did everything because he enjoyed it,” Griffin said. “He did it to have fun. He never took anything to hard.”
Dempsey praised how hard he worked.
“That’s what got other coaches’ attention, I think,” he said. “He worked so hard.”
It caught current football coach Randy Grace’s attention, as well.
“We said we wanted to be tougher in our football program,” Grace said. “What Mikey has done shows people how to be tough and to fight through and keep a positive attitude when things are looking down. That’s right at the heart of the Vikings spirit.”
Lures of love
People approach death in different ways. Some are quiet. Some are reserved. Tom Jacobs was neither.
“No, he’s easy to talk about,” Tom said. “It isn’t hard at all.”
Tom was quick to describe the disease that took his son as well as the circumstances of his death. How he and his wife helped Mikey from the living room to his bed. How they situated his sheets and prepared to put a blanket on him.
“He turned his head, and he was gone,” Tom said. “In a flash. He always did everything fast.”
Selfishly, Mikey’s loved ones hate they no longer have the ability to hold their son. But that isn’t how Tom looks at it.
“You focus on Mikey,” he said. “If you think about him, you look at him every day and know what he endured and the lack of suffering at the moment he died. It was gone. The sadness of our family is overshadowed by the fact he is in heaven and no longer suffering.”
Tom said Mikey, an avid fisherman during his life, would continue the practice in death.
“He’s in our hearts, and he’s sending out lures of love,” Tom said. “We never got what we wanted. The big miracle. But we got everything we needed. We asked for a peaceful passing, and that’s what we got. He’s in our hearts, and we’re glad we had as much time to share with him as we did.”
David Mitchell, Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports