Editor’s word: That is the primary installment of a three-part sequence on New Hope athlete Jeremiah Jethroe. The second a part of the sequence will run in Friday’s version, whereas the ultimate installment will run in Sunday’s paper.
Tall and broad, Jeremiah Jethroe slings the baseball with ease because the night shadows begin their gradual descent onto the sector.
On July 16, he stands alongside the left-field line and performs catch with teammate Tucker Boyett to kick off the New Hope Excessive Faculty baseball crew’s second-to-last follow of the summer time.
Up and down the foul line, a dozen pairs of Trojans mirror their actions. New Hope gamers smile and crack jokes and get free for the exercise to return. For a second, issues seem regular.
However they don’t seem to be. Not anymore.
Greater than 5 months in the past, in a spot in left heart discipline not far past the place Boyett stands because the duo performs lengthy toss, Jeremiah suffered a freak harm that ended the athletic first baseman’s junior season earlier than it started, put him and his household by means of a prolonged and painful restoration course of and even made him query whether or not he’d ever play baseball once more.
However now, Jeremiah is again on the sector, the smile on his face hiding the scar beneath his chin.
“In the event you’d have walked out right here and I informed you that child broke his neck,” New Hope head coach Lee Boyd mentioned, “you’d have by no means identified.”
Jeremiah says he is addicted to 2 issues: figuring out and donuts.
Whereas these two allegiances appear contradictory, Jeremiah — a self-described “workout-aholic” — compensates for the energy with an unmatched dedication to his well being and his train routine.
He is staved off soda since December of his freshman 12 months, subsisting on water, juice and Gatorade. He even as soon as talked his mom, Michelle Jethroe, out of constructing a 7-Up cake for him.
Earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he’d go to the New Hope YMCA thrice per week for an hour and a half to 2 hours at a time, working his entire physique and lifting weights.
And as quickly as he began driving, he took his crimson 2003 Camry to Trojan Subject at any time when he may, hitting baseballs and enjoying wall ball towards the backstop to follow his picks at first base. He’d keep till a coach got here to kick him out.
Boyd mentioned Jeremiah is without doubt one of the hardest employees on the crew, sometimes arriving early on the crew’s discipline home and ready for a coach to return and unlock the door. That dedication was set to earn Jeremiah common enjoying time on the Trojans’ junior varsity crew in 2020, with the chance to affix the varsity squad every now and then this spring.
However two days earlier than New Hope was set to open its season at residence towards Gordo (Alabama) and Starkville, one thing occurred that not even the hardworking Jeremiah may have ready for.
‘It simply actually scared me’
It was chilly, windy and moist on Feb. 20, and Trojan Subject lay underneath a protecting tarp following heavy rain.
At follow that afternoon, Boyd requested his gamers to switch the tarp from the crew’s giant culvert pipe to a smaller one which lay on the infield, then carry the bigger pipe off the sector. The larger pipe was greater than 20 ft lengthy and weighed greater than a thousand kilos, so two dozen Trojans grabbed it and started to march towards the outfield gate.
Jeremiah was within the entrance, unsuspecting, when a number of gamers started to slide on the moist grass, and the pipe slid from their fingers. It got here down on the again of his neck, making a cracking sound, earlier than bouncing on the grass and rolling away.
In some way, the affect did not damage, Jeremiah mentioned, however as a recurring watcher of exercise harm movies, he initially feared he’d been paralyzed, despite the fact that his legs had been shifting.
“It simply actually scared me,” he mentioned.
From the left discipline line, Boyd and his fellow coaches watched Jeremiah go down, falling on his again.
Initially, realizing Jeremiah’s fame for being a jokester, Boyd thought nothing was fallacious.
“If I might have had a special child which will have fallen on the market and was in ache like that, my first response would most likely have been, ‘Hey, this child’s damage,'” Boyd mentioned. “JJ simply retains the temper mild. You simply thought, ‘Oh, he is enjoying. He is simply joking.'”
Boyd approached Jeremiah, telling him, “Come on, buddy, stand up.” The fearful participant appeared again at him.
“Once I bent down and talked to him,” Boyd mentioned, “that is once I knew.”
Within the water
Ten years in the past, when a participant pulled his hip out of his socket whereas taking a swing in a recreation, was the one time Boyd ever remembered having an ambulance on Trojan Subject.
Now, with Jeremiah mendacity motionless on the grass, he needed to do it once more.
Assistant coach Jared Garrett referred to as 911, and an ambulance was summoned from Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle in Columbus. It solely took 10 or 12 minutes, however as he lay in a puddle of icy water, Jeremiah waited for what felt like an eternity. Gamers ran to the sector home to fetch their hoodies and blankets, piling them on their fallen teammate to heat him up because the ambulance raced south.
When the ambulance arrived, pulling up behind the scoreboard in left discipline, the wheels of its cellular gurney spun on the slick outfield grass as EMTs made a beeline for Jeremiah. He was lifted onto the mattress and given a couple of minutes to heat up earlier than being pushed away.
With ideas of follow deserted, the Trojans piled into their very own vehicles and drove to Baptist to see their teammate. After they had been allowed — a number of at a time — again to the emergency room mattress, Jeremiah was in good spirits.
“We had been actually considering, ‘Man, possibly that is only a scare,'” Boyd mentioned.
However they had been fallacious.
As Jeremiah lay immobile on the waterlogged grass, his mother’s iPhone lit up together with his identify.
“Hey, bud,” Michelle answered, unsuspecting.
On the opposite finish, New Hope assistant coach Tyler Neal recognized himself. Instantly, Michelle knew one thing was up.
“What’s fallacious?” she mentioned.
Neal started to clarify. Michelle’s head swam.
“He began speaking, however I wasn’t greedy,” she admitted.
After saying a prayer, Michelle — away from Mississippi on the time — referred to as Jeremiah’s father, Ronald Jethroe, who rushed to the sector earlier than the ambulance arrived.
Driving with Jeremiah to the hospital, Ronald turned on speakerphone so Michelle may hear her son, who was cheery and joking. She prayed for one thing mild: a bruise, possibly.
The ambulance unloaded its cargo at Baptist, inserting Jeremiah on his again in an open mattress. He underwent a number of scans, together with an X-ray.
After some time, Michelle heard — once more through speakerphone — Jeremiah’s prognosis: a break within the second cervical (neck) vertebra, often called C2. The harm, which generally happens when the pinnacle and neck snap ahead or backward instantly, is often often called a “hangman’s fracture.”
Maybe the identify was a premonition of what would come subsequent: the sudden upheaval of the Jethroes’ lives; the check Jeremiah instantly needed to face.
“He was wholesome. He had labored to get the place he was. He had progressed majorly,” Michelle mentioned. “After which, growth, simply within the blink of a watch, simply that quick, our entire life modified.”