Jordan Rodriguez had a dream.
Tuesday night at Oak Grove High School, it became a reality.
The eighth grader from Oak Grove Middle School is battling a brain tumor. For two glorious years, he and his family celebrated the fact that his cancer was in remission and he was able to concentrate on the important things in life – like working on his basketball skills.
Then came the phone call no parent ever wants to receive.
“We found out Jordan had a brain tumor in April of 2015, and got the good news that he went into remission in June of 2016,” said his mother, Jenny Bales. “Then, last January, we got the news that his cancer had returned.
“It was devastating.”
So Jordan has traded his basketball shoes and gym shorts for some boxing gloves – because the soft-spoken 15 year old promises, “I’m going to beat it. I have a big heart, a lot of support from my family and I want to play basketball on the freshman team at Oak Grove next year.
“I have to beat it!”
He does not have to wait until his freshman year to become a Panther, as coach Tyler Hames, Oak Grove Middle School principal Tracy Kemp and members of the Oak Grove administration and community surprised Jordan at Tuesday night’s home game against Odessa.
Jordan was presented his own Oak Grove jersey in a pregame ceremony, sat on the bench next to Hames and Kemp and was even presented a whistle by one of the officials during the captains’ meeting before the game.
Then, at halftime, he was presented a proclamation by Oak Grove Mayor Jeremy Martin that Valentine’s Day was also going to be “Our Hearts Are With Jordan Day” in Oak Grove.
Moments after receiving the proclamation, Jordan received his own letterman’s jacket from Oak Grove Booster Club president Jeff Jennings.
There were tears, a standing ovation and perhaps the biggest smile Jordan Rodriguez had ever produced as he walked off the court wearing “the coolest gift I ever got.”
“My mom told me there was going to be something special happen tonight,” Jordan said, “but I never thought I’d get all this. First, I get to go out with the players and meet the referees before the game.
“Then, I get my own jersey, which is really cool. And I got a standing ovation, and I didn’t expect that. But the coolest thing was getting my letterman’s jacket. I always wanted one. Next year, I want to earn one by playing on the team, but right now, this is so cool I can’t even tell you how cool it is.”
It was cool for the Oak Grove coach, too, as Hames heard about Jordan’s medical plight and wanted to honor him.
“I saw he had a bucket list, and wanted to play a game with the Panthers,” Hames said, “so we wanted to make him a part of the team. And everyone here at Oak Grove, and the coaches from Odessa, all bought into it.
“And our guys loved the idea. If you have the chance to help someone, to make them feel special, and you don’t do it, well – you’re always going to regret that missed opportunity. I had all these thoughts of what tonight would be like, and they have to take a secondary approach to the real thing.
“I mean, this was amazing. He’s a great young man, from a great family and tonight – and for the rest of his life – he’s a Panther.”
Following the Panthers’ 71-39 win over the Bulldogs, Jaxon Althaus emerged from the Oak Grove locker room, where Jordan celebrated with the team.
“We want him to come to the rest of our games this season,” Althaus said. “He brought us a lot of luck tonight. He showed us there are things more important than basketball, how to play as a team, how to care for each other, and we want him to be on our bench the rest of season. I think we’d love it as much as he would.”
Jordan’s principal embraced the invitation.
“Jordan invited me to sit with him on the bench tonight,” Kemp said. “I can’t tell you what that meant to me. Now, he’s a member of the Panthers, and I asked him if he wanted to be principal for a day with me at the middle school.
“I told him he could use the walkie talkie – but he’d have to wear a tie. But I bet he wears his letter jacket.”