Everyone who has played football or even simply watched it understands the game requires courage. Friday night at White Knoll High School, however, the bravest person on the field did not wear a helmet or pads. The bravest person on the field, you see, was only 9 years old.
Jacob Hare (called Jay by family and friends) didn’t expect to be a hero. As recently as July, he was just another little boy, enjoying baseball, Minecraft, Nintendo games, and all the other things 9-year-olds do. August 1, his life changed. That day, Jacob and his family learned that he has leukemia: specifically, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
The first good news for Jacob and his family was that there was hope. ALL can be beaten with proper treatment, and upon diagnosis, he went to Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital to begin his fight. The process is anything but easy. Jacob has already endured the induction phase of chemotherapy, including countless needle sticks, severe bone pain, blisters in his mouth and throat (from the toxic drugs used in chemo), and weakness so severe that on some days he has struggled to stand and walk.
The next good news came quickly after the diagnosis, as Jacob and his family found they do not have to fight alone. Child Life Specialists at the hospital saw to his comfort, making his hospital room as much like home as it could possibly be. They used candy to make “blood soup” to demonstrate for Jacob how the disease affects his blood cells. The Ray Tanner Foundation supplied beads for Jacob, celebrating the completion of each treatment. The Columbia Fireflies and Palmetto Health Foundation gave the family tickets to a game. The Make-a-Wish Foundation let his mother and father (Kimberly and Jacob) know they will grant him just about any wish. As Kimberly explained in the Facebook group created to keep his supporters updated, “He is pondering his brain for a wish!”
Family and friends and many strangers also stepped forward to help. They delivered meals for the family. They brought gifts for Jacob. They sanitized the Hare’s home, a necessary step before Jacob could come home because his immune system is weakened. They did little things like wash Kimberly’s car. They set up a GoFundMe page for donations to help the family with the many expenses that have come with the diagnosis and treatment. Then, on August 27, the band came.
The White Knoll marching band learned of Jacob’s illness and gave him a special gift. They came to the Hare’s home and performed in front of the house, just for him. Kimberly posted video days later of Jacob re-watching video of the concert, and said “He LOVES these guys!! 💕🎉🎉 y’all just don’t know how this has made him so happy!”
The band also gave Jacob an official band necklace and named him an honorary member, and they were not finished. They invited him to Friday night’s home game, to be recognized and serve as an honorary captain, to perform the pregame coin toss and then sit with the band during the game.
A week before the game came another reason to celebrate: the news that Jacob is officially in remission. The good news does not mean the fight is over, however. As Kimberly explained, “This is the best news we could have gotten but it doesn’t change his chemotherapy protocol for the next several months. The next phase appears to be even more aggressive with weekly spinal taps, daily injections, daily oral chemo, plus all his IV chemo clinic days but he is fighting!!!! He is winning!!!!”
Jacob was excited about the game and arrived early, watched the pregame warm-ups with his family, and listened carefully as the game’s head referee explained his coin toss duties. Just before he was supposed to take the field, he was hit by the effects of the chemo. As the public address announcer introduced him and told his story, Jacob struggled with nausea. Photographers ready to capture the coin toss lowered their cameras. It was uncertain he would be able to take part after all.
Moments later, we saw how a 9-year-old can be a hero to those far older. Jacob stood up, declining the offer to sit out the ceremony. The great ones play through pain. He took his father’s hand in one of his, his mother’s in the other, and he walked to the center of the field. Few if any of those present could fully understand how hard that walk was. At midfield, he took out the coin given to him earlier by the referee, and flipped it perfectly as the crowd applauded, and as high school football players more than twice his size watched with obvious respect.
The game began a few minutes later, but before the kickoff, everyone in the stadium knew the outcome. Jacob won.