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Life’s curveball: Blanks overcomes parents’ death

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, April 4, 2018
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Life s Curveball

“Within less than five months I’d lost my mom and dad. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.” Jerod Blanks. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Jerod Blanks took a long swig from his nearly empty Powerade bottle. His eyes darted around before he eventually settled on a spot off in the horizon.

He cleared his throat a few times and looked up before beginning his story.

It was Game 3 of the 2016 2A Region II area round. After going unbeaten in the regular season, Chico’s season suddenly rested on Jerod’s right arm.

Throughout the game, Jerod stepped off the rubber numerous times and gazed into the outfield. Each time, Jerod said he saw his late parents, Keith and Linda. Laboring through a 136-pitch complete game, Jerod propelled Chico past Muenster 6-5 and into the next round.

“He pitched his [rear end] off,” Chico coach Brian McBeth recalled.

Jerod scattered five runs on seven hits, throwing a scoreless seventh inning to seal the deal. Looking back, Jerod has no doubt his parents were with him on the diamond that spring night.

“It was crazy,” Jerod said. “I felt both of them behind the mound with me the entire game. Most definitely [my parents impacted that game]. That was the game my sister was like, ‘I know you felt them out there.’ And I was like, ‘You’re dang right I did.'”

Locked In

LOCKED IN – Chico senior Jerod Blanks pitches in a game against Alvord on March 20. Blanks struck out 15 batters in a 4-1 victory. Messenger photo by Mack Thweatt

MOMMA’S BOY

In October 2011, Jerod was in sixth grade and his parents’ divorce had just been finalized a few months earlier in May. Jerod had a pee-wee football game Saturday morning, and had stayed with his grandparents the night before.

In the minutes leading up to kickoff, Jerod remembers looking into the stands and not seeing his mom. The alarm bells soon started ringing in his head. Linda was always at his games.

Shortly after, Keith took Jerod off the field and they drove to Linda’s house. When they got there, the door was locked and no one was answering. What happened next is something Jerod said will stick with him forever.

“We went to the house and my dad and the cops kicked the door down,” Jerod said. “She still had her night glasses on [and was] on the couch. She passed away in her sleep.

“I still have the vivid image in my head of them kicking down the door. When my dad pulled me out of the game I knew something was wrong.”

Autopsy results revealed Linda died from cardiac hypertrophy. This condition arises when the walls of a ventricle thicken or become abnormally enlarged. It is typically associated with hypertension and can cause the interruption of blood supply to the heart, leading to heart failure.

Jerod’s sister, Kelcey, who was studying at Texas Tech University, rushed home from school. Within four hours of hearing the news, she was home with her other brother Jeremy, Jerod and Keith.

Although they had just lost their mother, more issues continued to arise.

“After my mom died, it kind of went downhill even worse,” Jerod said.

Holding Memories

HOLDING MEMORIES – Jerod remembers happier times with his parents. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“I WOULDN’T WISH IT ON MY WORST ENEMY.”

Keith had been struggling with bipolar disorder. Both Kelcey and Jerod believe his mental illness played a part in their parents’ divorce. Kelcey said they sought help for Keith at the Helen Farabee MHMR Center on multiple occasions.

Wanting her brothers to grow up in a stable environment, then 20-year-old Kelcey moved home and assumed guardianship of Jerod and 13-year-old Jeremy a month after their mother’s passing.

“To be honest, I can’t tell you where I got the strength,” Kelcey said. “It probably was my mom. It just felt natural to me. It was the right transition for all of us, it felt like. They needed to be in a stable place and [have] someone who was like a mom to them. And that was the role I needed to fill. That’s what I had to do. I didn’t question it a whole lot.”

In the months leading up to Linda’s death, Jerod and Kelcey said Keith’s mental condition deteriorated. Kelcey said at one point, Keith spontaneously bought a bar in Mineral Wells and was also fired from his job.

After their mother died, Keith’s bipolar disorder continued to worsen. As Kelcey remembers, it took calling “several people” to even get in touch with her father. Sensing something was seriously wrong, Kelcey again took Keith to the MHMR Center in Decatur in February 2012.

“We sat with a case worker and I remember him looking at me whenever they asked him ‘Have you ever had any thoughts about harming yourself or others?'” Kelcey said. “And he looked at me and back at her and said ‘Nope, not a thought.’ And the very next day he did it.”

It was early Saturday morning when Kelcey made the phone call to her grandparents’ house. She said she knew immediately something was wrong when her best friend’s mother answered the phone.

Jerod, who was in the bedroom sleeping, remembers Kelcey screaming into the phone as she got the news. Keith had committed suicide.

“Within less than five months I’d lost my mom and dad,” Jerod said. “I never would imagine losing one, much less both of them at the age of 11. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

THE ROAD AHEAD

Jerod isn’t much for sympathy.

After his father’s death, Jerod said he and Jeremy were encouraged to go to counseling. They attended a few sessions, but quickly realized it was not for them.

“Everybody thought I could go to counseling,” Jerod said. “But you know how that works out. We went for a little bit, but my brother and I didn’t like going there.”

Instead, Jerod, Jeremy and Kelcey leaned on each other for support – something they still do to this day. Although they had lost their mother and father within a span of five months, the three were determined to persevere.

“We went from hating each other to three best friends, kind of,” Jeremy said. “Our bond is like a little triangle that can never be broken.”

Jeremy graduated from Chico in 2016 and is planning to transfer to Tarleton State University in the fall from Weatherford College. Kelcey eventually transferred to the University of North Texas and finished her degree. She graduated in 2014 and now works in marketing for North East Mall in Hurst.

While Jerod described himself as a momma’s boy, he said Kelcey has impacted his life in ways he could never imagine.

“I don’t always show it to her, but she is the biggest part of my life,” Jerod said. “She doesn’t get enough credit from everyone else, either. She has taken over two roles. To come in from college not even having a job and to support two teenagers – she’s had the biggest impact.”

Jerod will graduate from Chico as salutatorian in May. He has a GPA of 3.9 and plans to attend Texas A&M University and major in mechanical engineering. He was the starting quarterback of the football team this year, leading the Dragons to their second straight playoff appearance. He also led the basketball team in scoring, helping Chico make it back to the postseason.

“I am so proud of that kid,” Kelcey said. “I think every day he does something that impresses me more and more. I can’t even put it into words how proud he makes me, and how proud I know my mom and dad are of him.

“These past however many years watching him do it all, it’s been so much fun for me and so rewarding to see him accomplish everything he has. He makes the whole town proud of him. His life and Jeremy’s could have gone in a much different [direction] than they did.”

Two weeks ago against Alvord, Jerod struck out 15 batters, leading Chico to a 4-1 victory over its cross-town rival. It was also the Dragons’ eighth straight victory at the time.

After the game, McBeth told Jerod it was the best he has pitched since the series-clinching win over Muenster nearly two years ago.

While Jerod does not see his parents behind the mound and in the outfield every game, he can still occasionally peer into the bleachers and see them both.

“I can just picture my mom in the stands. She gets one sunflower seed – she can’t put them all in her mouth – and I can picture her chewing them one by one and spitting them out, and my dad yelling at me from the side of the fence,” Jerod said, his voice trailing off.

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