OXFORD, Miss. – Members of the Ole Miss football and basketball teams took time away from practice and studying earlier this month to give a 9-year-old boy “the best day of his life.”
Jacob Partlow, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in August, is the son of Olevia Partlow of Baldwyn. Olevia graduated with a master’s degree in social work from the University of Mississippi in 2006.
“Jacob was about 3 when we moved to Oxford for me to go to school,” Partlow said. “Just a few months after we moved to Oxford, there was a fundraiser on campus. Jacob’s name was one of several children picked to compete for a chance to win a football signed by the Ole Miss football players. He threw the ball through a hoop and, at just 3 years old, was the winner. That sealed the deal. From that day on, the Ole Miss athletes were his heroes.”
Jacob and his mother have been following the football team’s season on television and through the newspapers. In fact, Olevia uses her cell phone to take pictures of game stories from the newspaper so she and Jacob can look at them together while he’s in the hospital.
Since his diagnosis, Jacob – described by his mother as a natural athlete and people person – has been unable to go to school or be around crowds because his immune system has been weakened by the leukemia. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia causes immature white blood cells to continuously multiply. The overproduction of the white blood cells can cause damage and death by crowding out normal blood cells in bone marrow and then spreading to other organs.
To treat the leukemia, Jacob has been going through rounds of chemotherapy that get progressively stronger, and although he couldn’t go to a football game, he had one wish before he started the strongest rounds.
“He told me when the football season started that he thought he could make it through the worst of the chemo if he could just meet one of the Ole Miss football players,” Partlow said.
Aware that Jacob was low on the Make-a-Wish list, Partlow called one of her Ole Miss social work professors, Debra Moore-Shannon, to see if there was a way for Jacob to meet one of the players.
During one of her classes, Moore mentioned Jacob’s wish to her student Jeremy McGee, a junior cornerback for the Rebels who is majoring in social work. Within days, McGee had rounded up more than a dozen football players – including senior receivers Dexter McCluster and Shay Hodge and senior safety Kendrick Lewis – to spend the afternoon of Dec. 9 throwing a football with Jacob.
With help from Omoro Hampton, a senior social work major who is a manager for the Ole Miss basketball team, the students also arranged for Jacob to visit a closed basketball practice, where he talked to Coach Andy Kennedy and was in the center of the team’s daily huddle.
“Usually, the guys will all gather together and yell, ‘One, two, three, together!’ but that day they changed it to ‘One, two, three, Jacob!’” Hampton said. “His visit really had a huge impact on all of us. In fact, Coach Kennedy talked about Jacob during the halftime of the McNeese State game.”
The Rebel basketball team, ranked No. 15 in the Associated Press poll, was struggling against McNeese State during the first half of the Dec. 12 game. The Rebels trailed 34-28 when they headed to the locker room for halftime.
“At half, Coach Kennedy told the players to put themselves in Jacob’s shoes and to think about how much they have to be thankful for,” Hampton said.
The Rebels came back in the second half to win the game 83-67, and Hampton said the team decided to dedicate the rest of their season to their young fan.
“He really helped me as a person, too,” Hampton said. “Nothing I am facing compares to what he is going through, but he doesn’t even act like being sick is a big deal. It just made me think about how much I have to be thankful for and how much I take for granted.”
“We teach our students in social work that we can’t make Jacob’s leukemia go away, but we can bring joy to his life that he will be able to hold on to forever,” Moore said. “That is exactly what our students demonstrated, and I was tremendously proud of them and the way that they gave of themselves to help Jacob.”
McGee said he will be thinking about Jacob when he takes the field for the Jan. 2 Cotton Bowl game in Dallas. A New Orleans native, McGee lost most of his possessions to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and just a year later, his mother died. Those experiences have made him more aware of how important it is to use his life to help others.
“I have a spot in my heart for kids,” he said. “I didn’t grow up in the best situation, and I know that just something as simple as spending time with a child who needs someone goes miles beyond anything that money can buy.”
Members of the social work faculty gave Jacob a football signed by all of the athletes who came to visit him, and McGee gave him a toy Rebel football player, two caps and a picture of Dexter McCluster. Since the visit, Hampton and McGee have continued to check on Jacob by text.
“I knew before I met Jacob that we had a big impact on kids’ lives, but I never had any idea just how much of an impact we could have,” McGee said. “Here was this 9-year-old kid who is dealing with very grown-up problems, but he still finds a way to smile through his situation. It’s just so inspiring to see so much strength in a young boy.”
That strength is likely to be on the minds of the players who met Jacob as they continue their seasons, just as they will remain a permanent memory for the young boy they touched.
Partlow said her son carries the signed football and basketball he received that day everywhere, and tells anyone who will listen about his day in Oxford. “He’ll just look them in the eyes and say, ‘Have I ever told you about the best day of my life?’”