An editorial by Gary Nager
An editorial by Gary Nager

My younger son Jake turned 21 in April, which means both of my sons are now “legal” and I’m just so proud of both of them.

Jared (now 24) is in our home state of New York for the summer, selling systems for Vivint Home Security, where he has been among the company’s top-rated rookie salespeople since he began working for Vivint in January.

Even though Jake isn’t at the University of Florida (the school that gave Bachelor’s degrees to both his brother and his dad), he’s doing great at (sigh) Florida State University in Tallahassee, where he is planning to earn a degree in Psychology, with plans to pursue a doctoral degree in Sports Psychology.

Or, at least he was doing great until last week, when his ankle got turned the wrong way after having an opponent fall on him during an intramural flag football game. He was on the ground, waiting for an ambulance, for more than 35 minutes, and who was holding Jake’s hand, telling him it was going to be OK (no matter how ugly his ankle looked)? Cory Nelson, Jake’s buddy (and captain of the intramural team) from Paul R. Wharton High. Also sticking around to make sure he got into the ambulance OK were Wharton grads Chris Blatz and Brian Christiansen.

It was Cory who mentioned to me, in a message on, how much the situation reminded him of the last time Jake was on the ground with a possible serious injury, which happened about a decade ago, when my kid got hit square in the forehead by a baseball bat thrown to him by another friend, as we were celebrating our New Tampa Little League (NTLL) Majors division Devil Rays team, which had just won the NTLL Majors park championship.

That time, the father of another of Jake’s friends, Francisco Diaz, was the first to reach my son, who already was sporting a huge lump on his forehead and even though he never lost consciousness, he was definitely woozy and scared, especially with all of his young friends on hand to see his head take on a newly grotesque shape. Although a Tampa Fire Rescue engine with trained paramedics arrived within just a few minutes, they allowed me to transport Jake to the emergency room at University Community Hospital (now Florida Hospital Tampa) myself because he didn’t seem to have injured either his neck or his spine.

Thankfully, Jake suffered no lasting injury from that incident, nor does it seem he’ll have anything other than a long period of physical therapy in order to rehab his ankle, which was dislocated, but apparently not broken, no matter how ugly it looked to his stunned friends and intramural teammates and opponents.

But, my reason for writing this isn’t to talk about my kid and his many trips to the ER, it’s about a group of young (dare I say it?) men and women, most of whom grew up from a young age in New Tampa and attended Wharton (and some, Freedom) High.

Just knowing that even though Jake (who is starting his senior year at FSU this summer) is 300 miles from home for at least the next year, he has so many friends (not all of whom are even from Tampa, much less Wharton grads) who won’t let him go through whatever trials and tribulations he may encounter alone, is very comforting to his dad.

So, here’s a public thank you to not only Cory, Chris and Brian, but also Jake’s friend at school Stephen Winchip — who is from Stuart, FL, and who rode in the ambulance with him — and to Jake’s wonderful girlfriend Natalie (who is from the Daytona Beach area), who is helping him every day as he recovers.

Anyone who knew Jake as a youngster probably remembers him as my “little peeps,” who was still only 5’-1” tall and 105 lbs. when he finished the ninth grade at Wharton. But, even though he’s about 5’-11” and 190 lbs. today and is much more “buf” than I ever was as a young man, he’s still my little peeps and I’m just so appreciative for all the love and support he’s gotten from his “family” of friends at FSU, so many of whom (many not mentioned here) he’s stayed friends with from Wharton, the NTLL and the old New Tampa Soccer Association.

Jake’s already assured me that as soon as he feels well enough, he’s going to start wheeling himself up and down his apartment complex’s parking garage, in order to get some sort of cardio and strength training in until he’s able to walk normally and resume his usual workout regimen.

But, without the actions of these young men — which speak so loudly for their parents and the way they were raised — who knows how much worse off emotionally Jake might be?

So, the next time someone tells you there’s no spirit of community in New Tampa, tell them about my son and his amazing friends, all of whom have told me they know Jake would have done the same for them. Thanks again, guys!

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