Jeremiah Ochoa emerged from the boys locker room at E.C. Central High School prominently displaying two carefully-designed tattoos on his left arm, marking forever a recent tragedy.
The Cardinals senior basketball player had the first tattoo done just a week ago. It reads "RIP Dawk" along with a cross, accompanied by the words "Only God Can Judge Me," in remembrance of his stepfather Anthony "Dawk" Alexander, who died late last month. Another reads "RIP Jimmy," accompanied by praying hands as a tribute to his late uncle.
"He raised me since I was about 7 years old," Ochoa said of Alexander. "He used to always tell me to come in the house on time. I used to run the streets and stuff. He'd always yell at me and tell me that's not the right thing to do. He used to always come to my games. He was a big impact on my life, period."
Tattoos in remembrance of loved ones among athletes have become quite common, said Jeff Zygowicz of Famous Legs Tattoos in Gary. A tattoo artist for 20 years, Zygowicz said he has seen a great deal of young people walk through his doors, and in increasing numbers. The popularity from young people wanting tattoos has grown immensely, especially from athletes wanting to emulate their favorite sports role model.
Tattoo laws for minors in Indiana are relatively lenient. Zygowicz said there is no defined cutoff age, and the only requirements are written consent from a parent or legal guardian, who must also accompany the minor to the a shop to get the tattoo. Zygowicz said his policy is not to give tattoos to anyone younger than 16. Famous Legs has turned away children as young as 12.
"A lot of our young clients are second generation," Zygowicz said. "We tattooed their parents."
Chanton Booker, a 21st Century junior, has a tattoo on the inside of each of his wrists. His right wrist reads "10-42," while the left reads "4-11," a reference to his grandmother, Lola Holloway's birth in October 1942 and death in April 2011. Farther up his left arm, a tattoo of Jesus praying is flanked by the name "L. Holloway" and his mother's name, "Jasmine."
"She was my best friend," Booker said of his grandmother. "She always wanted me to keep something positive in my life."
Lew Wallace senior Aarion Green has a tattoo across his chest that reads "RIP Solomon" in memory of his grandfather, who recently died.
"He taught me how to be a man," Green said. "I used to tell him about my games and show him videos."
Other tattoos among area athletes include religious themes. Zygowicz said tattoos of praying hands coming out of his shop are very common. Tattoos depicting crosses are also popular.
Lew Wallace junior Jiovanni Murphy has a tattoo of part of one of the most widely recognized Bible verses, Psalms 23:4, starting at his right wrist and traveling up his forearm.
"That's always been my favorite prayer," he said. "That's why I got it."
Tattoos showing respect for parents are also a recurring theme. Lew Wallace senior Jordan Johnson has his mother's name, "Carmen," tattooed on the inside of his right arm. He previously had tattoos of joker faces and praying hands done when he was 16, making his mother skeptical of a third tattoo.
"I had surprised her," Johnson said. "She said, 'If you're getting these tattoos all over your body, you've got to get a job.' Seeing how she was reacting, I finally just showed her. She gave me a hug and said she loved me. I told her I loved her back."
Some choose their ink to be more lighthearted.
Lew Wallace senior Rondre Davis has a tattoo of The Incredible Hulk squeezing a basketball on his right arm that he had done at Famous Legs in 2010 when he turned 16.
"I was thinking The Incredible Hulk is one of my favorite characters and basketball is my favorite sport, so I put one and two together," Davis said. "If I was going to get it, I had to think about if I really wanted it for the rest of my life, and I do. I like tattoos. Some of my favorite idols got them."
It's been said that getting tattoos is addicting. Booker didn't believe it at first, but now he wants more.
"When I first got my tattoo, I was like 'OK, I have a tattoo,'" he said. "You just start getting a lot of ideas. You've just basically got to know what you want before you get the wrong tattoo on your body."