For the TRIBUNE
An 11-year-old Jennings County football player injured Nov. 1 during a tournament in Columbus is breathing on his own and has opened his eyes while recovering at an Indianapolis hospital.
Calvin Clark has been in critical condition at Riley Hospital for Children since collapsing on the sidelines of a Police Athletic Activities League tournament where he was competing for the Jennings County Panthers youth football team.
He has been unconscious since undergoing surgery to control bleeding in his brain but is exhibiting signs of improvement, including breathing on his own, said Brent Comer, his elementary school principal.
“Every day, we’re seeing some positive, gradual steps with Calvin,” Comer said.
Nick Megel, who leads Jennings County Youth Football, said Calvin had another operation Thursday to close his skull from the previous brain surgery. Calvin was placed on a ventilator for that procedure, but it was removed a short time later, Megel said.
Calvin has become much more responsive during the past week, Comer said, responding to touch stimulus, opening his eyes and starting to follow light with
“This is really positive news,” Comer said. “We’re focusing on the positives.”
It takes a town
A sixth-grader at Hayden Elementary School, Calvin has had the support of his classmates and teammates who have rallied around the family by sponsoring fundraising events to help defray the family’s medical costs.
The close-knit community of Hayden, an unincorporated town of about 500 people located eight miles west of North Vernon, has drawn even closer during Calvin’s health battle.
Friday, the Jennings High School Panther Nation gathered for the traditional scrimmage among the basketball teams, but this year with a twist. All proceeds from free-will donations at the door would go to help defray Calvin’s medical expenses.
Tables of donated merchandise were offered in a silent auction, and an auctioneer called out bids in the hundreds of dollars for Indiana Pacers tickets and even $225 for a basketball signed by former Indiana University coach Bob Knight.
Former Pacers player Clark Kellogg’s courtside seats were auctioned along with a hotel package
“That’s one thing you’ll find about Jennings County people: they come together for a cause,” said Gary
Driver, Jennings County sheriff-elect who was wearing a Clark T-shirt and helping with the auction as
Megel was manning a table Friday night in the high school gym selling more “Praying for Calvin” T-shirts. The youth football program had already delivered hundreds of the shirts Thursday to Calvin’s classmates at Hayden.
The $10 T-shirts have Calvin’s last name and jersey number 48 on the back. More than 1,500 have been sold so far, Comer said.
Nine-year-old Tanner Stearns waited patiently with his money to get a T-shirt at Friday night’s scrimmage, clutching two $5 bills in his hand. The fourth-grader who attends Hayden Elementary said he just wanted to support Calvin by buying a shirt and came to the scrimmage with his grandfather to purchase one.
While watching the scrimmage with two of his daughters, Jennings High School German teacher Ben Jaquess was wearing a Calvin shirt.
“We just wanted to show our support for Calvin and his family,” Jaquess said.
The family and school have received a national outpouring of support since a Nov. 16 story in the New York Times about Calvin and the Jennings County community’s response to help his family.
“We are getting phone calls from all over the country,” Comer said, adding that some people want to donate while others called to offer words of support.
“They say, ‘We’re from such and such place, and we want you to know we’re praying for Calvin,’” Comer said.
Zaydun Sharp, 11, is the quarterback for the team that Calvin plays for and was wearing his “Praying for Calvin” T-shirt Friday at the scrimmage. The two players have been friends for two or three years, and Zaydun acknowledged that it is his job to hand the ball off to Calvin, who plays fullback.
Zaydun said his message to his friend was for Calvin to get well soon because he couldn’t wait to see him.
The two players have big plans. Calvin is an IU fan and wants to play there, while Zaydun has hopes to play for Notre Dame.
“You’ll be playing against each other,” his mother Melissa Sharp said, smiling at her son.
Nurse offers help
Melissa Sharp said the family is monitoring Calvin’s process each day. She was at the game when Calvin collapsed and, as a nurse, went to his aid when he went to the sidelines and said he was feeling dizzy.
When Calvin collapsed, Melissa Sharp said, she stabilized his neck and helped cut off his jersey before Calvin left the field by ambulance. Someone told her to toss the jersey into a nearby trash can, but she stopped and instead tucked it away and took it home.
She had thought about bringing it to the scrimmage, but instead, she and Zaydun decided to hold on to it until they can give it to Calvin’s parents.
“Hopefully, even if he doesn’t get to play again, he might want to have it,” she said. “But hopefully he’ll get to play again.”
Support in Columbus, too
Chuck Kime, executive director for Foundation for Youth, which sponsored the tournament that Calvin was participating in, said Columbus teams continue to keep Calvin in their thoughts and prayers.
There have been several efforts in Columbus to raise money for the family, with proceeds sent to Jennings County in coordination with efforts there, Kime said.
Megel mentioned that many Columbus PAAL team members have ordered the “Praying for Calvin” shirts.
Cummins Inc. employees also ordered several hundred of the shirts as Calvin’s father works for the company, Megel said.
In the community, supporters have held charity suppers and have passed the hat in the bleachers at sporting events to gather donations. Some of the suppers have generated
as much as $2,500 in
donations for the family, Megel said.
“The donations have been everything from a quarter to hundreds of dollars,” Comer said. “There’s a lot of love out there.”
School coordinating efforts
The elementary offered to coordinate all the fundraisers, directing proceeds
to help Calvin’s family, Comer said.
The family has declined to be interviewed, asking Comer and school officials to coordinate relaying information to the media about Calvin and his condition.
“The family is still reeling from this,” he said, adding that they are thankful for the well wishes, prayer and positive thoughts being sent their way.
Comer said the school will continue to coordinate efforts and funnel information about those who want to help to the family.
“We can’t change what happened,” Comer said of Calvin’s circumstances, “but we can control how we react to it.”
“The family wants positive vibes, and that’s what we’ll continue to give them,” Comer said.
That effort through Hayden Elementary and the Jennings County community will continue for months or even years, if that’s what it takes, Comer said.
“We didn’t want the fundraising to be some passionate ‘flash in the pan’ effort,” he said. “Whether it’s a month or a year or six years, we don’t know, we are going to keep this going for the Clark family.”
The principal is confident that when the school receives the announcement that Calvin is awake at Riley, the students’ response will be “off the charts,” Comer said.
“There will not be a lot of state standards being taught at Hayden Elementary that day,” Comer said, “And the principal won’t care.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”How to help” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
Fundraising efforts to help pay the medical expenses of injured 11-year-old Jennings County football player Calvin Clark are being coordinated through Hayden Elementary School. Call 812-346-2813 for information.