Wesley Chapel kid assists Land O’ Lakes team
By Kyle LoJacono
Like many boys, Jacob Rush loves football, but being born with cerebral palsy makes it impossible to play the game.
Jacob, 11, has not let his condition prevent him from being a part of South Pasco Predators mitey mite team. He leads the stretching and agility drills to start practices and helps as an assistant coach.
“It makes me feel like I’m part of the team,” said Jacob, of Wesley Chapel. “I get to call out the drill and blow the whistle during warm-ups and help my dad coach the offense and defense in practice and games.”
Jacob’s father, Michael, is an assistant on the team, which is part of the national Pop Warner football program and plays its home games at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex on Collier Parkway. Players are ages 7-9. His other son, 9-year-old Caleb, plays on the team, which has started the season 3-1.
“I get the most joy out of him being able to be in sports,” Michael said. “I was very nervous that parents or the kids might not have wanted him on the sidelines and helping in practice, but everyone just feels good that he can help out. He gets to be part of the team.
“The other thing is the players get to see a kid like Jacob,” Michael continued. “I’ve been a teacher for 23 years, so I know how kids can be when they see someone a little different. It helps the awareness of kids to see that Jacob isn’t disabled, just a little different.”
Michael is a math teacher at Wharton High.
Jacob’s condition stems from a blood vessel rupturing, which caused the right side of his body to be less developed than his left, according to his pediatrician Dr. Patrick Yee.
“Cerebral palsy isn’t one illness, but a collection of conditions caused by damage to the brain and nervous system that cause problems with things like learning, hearing, movement, sight and other things,” Yee said. “The symptoms vary from very mild to very severe.”
Yee said it is not hereditary and added there is no way of knowing if the rupture happened before, during or shortly after Jacob was born.
Michael said no one else in his family has the disease. He and Jacob’s mother, Tammy, discovered Jacob’s condition very early, which has helped them control the symptoms.
“Jacob was born premature and had to be in intensive care for 28 days,” Michael said. “They did a brain scan and Dr. Yee said he saw a dark cloud that he wasn’t sure what it was. I can still remember that day he told us, but in a way we were very lucky to find out early.”
Jacob had to have an operation so he could walk more normally three years ago. Jacob does not have major problems with gross motor skills like walking, but has more trouble with fine motor skills that need more dexterity like picking something up with his right hand. He is left handed, but writing offers its own challenges.
For him to write traditionally he needs someone else to hold the paper still because it moves from the pressure of the pen or pencil and he cannot hold it in place with his right hand. Michael said he also loves computers, which is good because he uses them to write most of his schoolwork.
Despite being so young, Jacob has learned all the rules of football so well that he also acts as referee during practice, blowing his whistle to stop plays when he sees a penalty.
“I really want to be a football referee when I grow up, but I could also do something with computers,” Jacob said. “I love football and it’s great to get a chance to be a part of the team. Everyone is nice to me and I get to be with my brother and dad.”