It’s a Friday night at Wekiva High School. The weather is cool yet crisp. Perfect for playoff football. The Mustangs football team is hosting Mandarin High School of Jacksonville in the FHSAA Regional Finals. Wekiva Middle Linebacker James Lynch Junior is warming up with a hyper focus.
“You never know when your last game could be,” he tells me.
Lynch is a part of the storied, decorated, highly recruited Wekiva defense. During the 2018 season the Mustangs knocked off rival Apopka twice en route to their second straight and second ever district title. This defense features D-1 recruits like 4-Star Defensive Tackle Tyler Davis, 4-Star Linebacker Rian Davis (out with a knee injury), and Pitt commit Brandon Hill at Safety.
Lynch is getting college interest of his own. Right now his top choices are Duquesne and Troy, but tonight his top priority is leading this defense to a win.
“You’ve got to be a leader. Middle Linebacker should always be a leader on the field,” Lynch Jr says.
Leading this star-studded defense is impressive on its own. Even more impressive when you consider it’s his first year at the school. He transferred from Olympia this season.
“I had to let him understand, you’re the Mike Linebacker, you’re the captain of the defense. You’ve got to put these guys in position,” his father James Lynch Sr says.
Lynch Sr knows what he’s talking about. He played for fullback for the Bengals, Vikings, Dolphins and even spent time with the Orlando Predators. Lynch Sr and his wife Shekia Lynch are in the stands tonight, but someone from the family is missing. Someone that reminds Lynch Jr how precious every game is every time he comes home.
Cut to the following Monday. Wekiva lost that game to Mandarin 19-7. Inside the Lynch family home, Lynch Jr tells me “We held them to twelve points on offense. We thought that’d be enough.”
The loss hurt. It was Lynch Jr’s last High School game, but he can’t let it bring him down. His 5-year old sister Jazz’myne wants to go play “kitchen”.
“This is my toy kitchen!” Jazz’myne exclaims as she prepares me a dish. James is there laughing.
“Jazz’myne? She’s like my best friend,” he says. “She tells me when I’m wrong. Most of the time we are always playing.”
Jazz’myne takes a plate out of her toy oven. “The food is ready!” she says.
Just like her big brother she loves playing games. Coincidentally a game helped save her life.
A Blessing in Disguise
This past March the family went to a near by Chuck E Cheese’s.
“She was on one of the rides and she tried to get off a little bit too early and stumbled and fell into another one,” James Lynch Sr remembers.
James Lynch Jr was there too. “When it happened we just ran to go and get ice and put it on her head.”
Jazz’myne had a bruise on her head. It didn’t appear serious at first, but that fall turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not long after they noticed a change with her eye.
“One day I noticed her eye something was wrong with her eye,” Shekia says. “And it actually turned.”
Doctors initially thought it might be Estropia. A condition that causes one of the eyes to turn inward. Further testing revealed it was much more serious than that.
“They made an emergency appointment,” Shekia remembers. “After they saw her I think it was less than an hour they called back and said she had a small mass on the brain.”
Jazz’myne had Brain Cancer. The initial diagnosis, Jazz’myne might only have months to live.
“It scared us we all had some tears coming down,” Lynch Jr remembers.
Days later the doctors changed their tone.
“They told us it was slower growing and there’s a lot of things to do to make her comfortable to live a good life,” Lynch Sr says.
Right now Jazz’myne is facing about a year of treatment at Nemours Children’s Hospital that includes chemotherapy. The goal is to get the mass to shrink and as medicine evolves hopefully one day she can be cured.
James Lynch Jr dedicated this past season to her.
Playing for Jazz’myne
“I should give every play just for her because I know she’d want me to do that,” Lynch Jr says.
The community has taken notice. At the Homecoming game versus University, Wekiva held a grey out fundraiser. Grey is the official color of Brain Cancer awareness. The ribbon symbol can be found on the player’s helmets. A link to Jazz’myne’s GoFundme page can be found here https://www.gofundme.com/fight-for-jazz039myne
“It’s been great,” Lynch Jr says. “That’s probably the happiest thing for me just to see other people caring about my family.”
Back at home Lynch Jr sits down and reads a story to his sister. “My itsy, bitsy spider,” he starts.
“Happily, love and kisses, the end,” Jazz’myne finishes and gives a clap.
James Lynch Jr’s season may be over, but his sister’s story is far from done.
“When stuff like this happens,” he says. “It makes you open your eyes and appreciate the little things in life.”