INDIANAPOLIS | As a writer, you're supposed to be able to find the words to describe the events you attend.
LaPorte's run to the Class 5A state finals was a stumper.
Special is an obvious one. Magical isn't bad, but it just doesn't seem to do it justice. Given the Slicers' common 'Play for Jake' cause, spiritual might be a pretty good fit, given a different power seemed to be at work.
"I know he's there all around them," Julie Schroeder, the mother of Jake West, said Saturday. "I can feel him. I know they do, too."
Sitting amid Slicer nation was bittersweet for Schroeder, who lost her son to an undetected heart disorder over a year ago. She couldn't help but picture her No. 26 right in the middle of it, high-fiving and chest bumping with his teammates on the turf where his beloved Colts play. At the same time, who knows if the strength forged through the death of their friend was what spurred LaPorte's improbable run.
"It's been a whirlwind of emotions," Schroeder said. "It's hard for me to put a lot of feelings into words. There's something about the boys. They've pulled together even tighter. I'm very proud of the boys. I'm inspired by how they've come this far. They've come together. They haven't given up one time. It really warms my heart. I'm very grateful that they always remember Jake."
Schroeder has maintained contact with players via texts and pop-ins during the season. She attended a moving senior night and has been at each game since the sectional final.
"It's definitely helped me in the healing process," she said. "I'm glad to be there. I had no regrets in my life with Jake and I'm going to continue to live like that. Emotionally, physically, if I was able to be there, I was going to be there. I never wanted to say, 'Oh, I wish I had gone.' It's just so nice to feel a different emotion. It's something I haven't had in a long time, in over a year."
Before leaving for Indianapolis Saturday morning, Schroeder stopped by the home of Noah Boardman, Jake's best friend. She gave him a hug and dropped off a care package that she told him he couldn't open until after the game.
"They're like sons to her," LaPorte coach Bob Schellinger said. "They're still very much a part of that. It brings her joy that they haven't forgotten Jake. They've used the 'Play for Jake' motto. It's a great comfort to her."
The feeling is undoubtedly mutual. Dan Bigg, the development partner with the Play for Jake Foundation, talked about how Julie's presence has let the team know they are still important to her as well.
"Jake is in the fabric of the team, the fabric of the community," Bigg said. "She's been a part of their healing process, too, not only the players, but the coaches. Several times, I'd call her, asking her if she was going to the game. I'd say how the kids really do like to see you. They've learned that they're there for each other. It's been an inspiration to see what they've been able to do when things didn't go well, the power of the coaches around them."
The ancillary benefit to LaPorte's trip to state, despite the lopsided loss to Indianapolis Cathedral, was the attention gained for the Play for Jake Foundation, its broadened reach beyond northwest Indiana.
"The main focus is to raise awareness," Schroeder said. "I don't want to see it happen to anybody else. What better way?"
Afterward, Boardman, carrying a huge flag with 26 printed on it, presented West's state finals medal to Schroeder.
"I would tell him I played my hardest for him, the team played its hardest for him," Boardman said. "We left it all out on the field. That was the best way to honor him. Even though it didn't turn out how we wanted, I think Jake would still be extremely proud."
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.