Jared Scheidel ambles onto the ballfield and members of the Knights varsity baseball team greet him as they get ready for practice.
“What’s up, coach Schy?” one player says, using his nickname. “Hi guys!” Jared calls back. “You ready?”
As players start their warm-up sprints, one calls out, “Schy, you coming to run?” “No!” Jared calls back with a good-natured grin, knowing he wouldn’t get far with his crutches.
Although he can’t run and throw and field like these guys, Jared is very much part of the team. He keeps track of pitch counts and helps with gear and instructions as an assistant to coach Joe Acker. He calls Jared a “moral compass” for his team, given what the senior has had to overcome with two kidney transplants and scars from several surgeries.
“You spend a couple minutes with Jared, and you could put your life in a pretty good perspective,” Acker says. “He never has a bad day.”
As Jared goes out to watch his teammates play catch, Acker finds another level of praise for his highly motivated 4-foot-7-inch assistant.
“There’s 40-year teachers that don’t have the Kenowa pride that kid has,” Acker says. “Nobody compares.”
‘I Just Do What I Can’
That seems to be a pretty universal sentiment around Kenowa Hills High, from which Jared will graduate May 31. His upbeat attitude and determined drive, despite physical challenges that have hospitalized him for long spells, have made him a popular student with teammates and classmates alike.
“He’s a really good guy,” says junior Harrison Collins as he puts his cleats on for practice. “He’s that chirpy kid that likes to get things done. He just keeps us in line.”
That admiration goes all the way to the top. Superintendent Gerald Hopkins calls Jared a powerful example for students and adults.
“Never once have I seen him get down or depressed,” Hopkins says. “He’s an incredible young man.”
Ask Jared where he gets that upbeat thing, and you’ll get a disarmingly simple answer.
“I always think positively, I think on the bright side, and I go with the flow,” Jared says in his thoughtful way. “If I’m in the hospital, I just do what I can. One day at a time, that’s just the way I take it.”
How does he keep from getting down when things go wrong? Again, simple. “If you think on the positive side, all the bad things that are happening just go away.”
It’s a knack he wishes, frankly, that more people had.
“To see people complain about the littlest things drives me nuts, because I’ve been through so much.”
A Rough Start in Life
The problems started before he was born. A prenatal test revealed his kidneys were inflamed, and doctors took him from his mother, Maggie, 10 weeks early. He was put on dialysis at 6 weeks old.
Jared received his first kidney transplant at 4 ½ years old. About a year and a half later, however, doctors discovered an anti-rejection drug was causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. So they discontinued the drug and put him back on dialysis, which he stayed on for the next 11 years. Some nights his parents would hook him up at home for 12 hours, then take him off in time for school the next morning.
It wasn’t until January 2016 that he received a second transplant, with what his parents were told was a perfect match, his mother said. But Jared immediately began rejecting the donor kidney, and doctors found it was a positive crossmatch – meaning his antibodies were attacking the kidney’s, she said.
To counteract the attacking, Jared was given five days of plasmapheresis, replacing his plasma with new plasma, as well as a therapy to strengthen his immune system. It was successful in keeping the donor kidney functioning, but he spent 88 days in the hospital – and missed a whole lot of school.
He’s also had several other surgeries brought on by complications of kidney failure, which made his bones brittle and stunted his growth. He’s had leg surgery, hip reconstruction and staples to straighten his ankles. He fractured an ankle last winter, putting him back on crutches, and has been doing physical therapy since then.
“I’ve had so many surgeries, it’s crazy,” he says. “But I’ve made it through it all.”
He’s made it academically by studying in the hospital and at home when he couldn’t be at school, aided by Google Docs and Gmail to communicate with his teachers. He had to catch up on three classes this year that he wasn’t able to complete as a junior.
“I like school, but with all my hospital stays, school’s been hard on me,” he admits. “But I get through it. I get my work done.”
He gets through emotionally on his positive attitude and drive, traits he credits largely to the support of his parents, Maggie and Ken.He calls them “tough people” who “always had my back.”
His mother returns the compliment, marveling at the resiliency and personality of her youngest child. Despite all the surgeries, tubes, treatments and some 40 pills a day, his sense of humor and positive outlook are undimmed.
“If God had to choose one of our kids to have all these issues, he definitely chose the right one,” she said. “He’s got the best attitude. It’s kind of unbelievable.
“We’re just extremely proud.”
Put Me In, Coach
Through all his struggles, Jared has won a legion of fans at Kenowa Hills – sports fans especially. A huge sports fan himself, he started helping out with the high school football program when he was in middle school. As a seventh-grader, he walked into coach Scott VanEssen’s office and asked if he could assist on the JV team of his older brother Michael.
VanEssen “kicked him out,” as the coach quips now, but Jared came back the next day and properly introduced himself. He’s been with the program ever since, taking film at practice, helping set up drills and even designing occasional plays. He proudly diagrams a pass play he once drew up for a two-point conversion.
“He caught it and I’m like, ‘Wow, it worked!’” Jared recalls.
That kind of enthusiasm was infectious for the team, says VanEssen. But he adds the gift of Jared’s attitude went beyond football.
“He’s done a lot for me, putting everything in perspective,” says VanEssen, who led the Knights to five straight state playoffs and was named the West Michigan Officials Association Coach of the Year in 2015. “He’s our friendly reminder to come to work and enjoy, and be blessed to have an opportunity to make a difference.”
With Jared around, he adds, “When you’re having a bad day, you’re not having a bad day. He’s that kid.”
Jared worked this school year as an office assistant to Athletic Director Charlie O’Dell, helping him with game schedules and other tasks. O’Dell’s father had a kidney transplant, enhancing his appreciation for Jared’s journey. He’s been amazed to see Jared leave school, go get dialysis, and come back the next day full of energy, talking sports strategy and supporting the teams.
“What he brings to this school is phenomenal,” O’Dell says. “The kids love him here” – a love that’s reciprocated. “He loves the black and the gold. He wants the athletes to be successful.”
Thinking Big for Future
For the time being, Jared will continue assisting O’Dell with event coordinating and after-school programming. He hopes someday to coach or be a sports announcer.
“I feel like I could do something big,” he says confidently. “Being in the field so young, I have a lot of incoming knowledge that I’ve learned from people I’ve worked with that I can pass on to others.”
He’s passed on what he can to help the baseball team finish second in its conference. And he looks ahead to next week’s graduation with pride, and perhaps some relief knowing all it took to get there.
He is determined to walk across the stage by himself, unaided by crutches.
“A big step,” he calls it. “A lot of weight off my shoulders. That’s one thing I’ve accomplished.
“As soon as high school’s done, check school. That’s complete.”