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MY SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR. ... DIED AT AGE 12 Print E-mail
by Mike Fisher    Sat, Dec 31, 2005, 06:40 PM

You have likely never heard of my "Sportsman of the Year'' -- in large part because Chandler Jackson didn't live long enough to be heard of, didn't even live long to become a man.

Be prepared to scratch your head and dab your eyes about a tragic sports story. Be prepared to then get out from under that keyboard so you can go interrupt whatever game it is those kids of yours are playing. And be prepared to ring in the New Year by hugging those kids and never letting go. ...

"He was my son, my best friend and my hero,'' the mourning father of the 12-year-old boy tells me. "And I lost them all on that day."

This is the story of Chandler Jackson, a terrific athlete and a terrific boy who was growing up straight and tall in Frisco, Texas. Chandler tested up two grades in middle school despite his ADHD. He attended Hebron Community Church and "was blessed with spiritual gifts,'' says his older sister. He wasn't "into girls'' yet, but he was close friends with kids of all ages, shapes and sizes.

"A special angel,'' Rick calls him.

And maybe a special athlete, too. Named after former baseball commissioner Happy Chandler, the kid was born to play ball. Organized baseball when he was 3, busting windshields with homeruns. Skateboarding like a madman, and stopping to help others catch up. Skeetshooting. Swimming. And golf? The kid parred a hole by the time he was 6.

Who knows? Maybe Chandler would've matured into an adult, a leader, a star. ... and maybe he wins "Sportsman of the Year'' in a more conventional manner.

But. ...

The golf clubs were at the ready during a family outing in Kentucky for the Fourth of July. Oh, there would be other activities at the annual celebration -- the fireworks and the tractors and the boating and the barbecue and the homemade ice cream and Chandler blurting out theatrically, "This is the best day of my life!" -- but golf with a father and a son?

What could be better, warmer, safer, than a round of golf?

"We’d played golf on the 4th and, for whatever reason, he really wanted to play again,'' says Rick, his voice shaking as he forces himself to relay memories of that day to me. "So we let him pick the teams and off we went."

Young Chandler teed off at No. 5 at Dogwood Hills. His shot was errant and to the right. The kid went after his ball.

And two hours later, Chandler Jackson was dead.

Someone hears a "snap.'' And then a cry for "Help!" coming from a gulley. Chandler's friends go to him and see blood shooting into the air. There is a puncture wound through the boy's neck. He is turning blue.

There are emergency people. A helicopter. Five surgeons working on Chandler for 90 minutes. But in the end, at 9:30 p.m., July 6, 2005, Chandler Hugh Jackson is pronounced dead, the result of massive hemorrhaging caused by a direct impalement puncture that entered just below his Adam’s apple, angled sharply downward after glancing off a bony protrusion of his breast plate, and completely sheared off his carotid artery and partially sliced his aorta.

In short, the boy died from somehow being stabbed with a piece of his own golf club.

The "snap'' was the sound of the club breaking. Chandler was impaled by a seven-inch-long part of the shaft. Some wonder why the accident wasn't more thoroughly investigated. Others wonder if golf clubs possess the hidden potential for more such accidents and need to be reviewed. And then there is the unsolved mystery of what Chandler was doing with that club while locating his ball. Was he leaning on it? Did he stumble and fall? Was it, as spiritual leaders like to say, simply "his time''?

Says Chandler's mom, Charmane, "People say he’s in a better place, but I hate that. He was having a great life, and he was making life great for so many other people. How could it be better? ... My faith is really, really being tested.''

Only Chandler and God know what happened down in that gulley. And only God can possibly explain WHY it happened. I mean, young people die. And it's always tragic. In the case of the 18-year-old son of Colts coach Tony Dungy, it is inexplicable enough, and it was an apparent suicide. But the hows and whys of Chandler's death. ... Every year a dozen or so American kids will die on a golf course. Lightning, maybe. Or a bee sting. A drowning. Head trauma from being hit with a club.

But being stabbed by one's own club?

As a friend of mine who is close to the Jacksons puts it, "This is a one-in-a-million kid dying in a one-in-a-million way.''

We all grieve in our own way. The family's way:  The Chandler Hugh Jackson Youth Foundation (www.chandlerjackson.org), with the purpose of providing less fortunate kids the opportunity to travel, play sports, attend camps and live life to the Chandler-like fullest.

"We want Chandler’s memory to inspire other kids," Rick tells me, fighting through tears. "We want to send teams to baseball tournaments or just give a kid a chance to make a birdie putt. Something positive they can take with them for strength when they face adversity in their life. We want them to have experiences like he did. We want other kids to say, like he did, "It was the best day of my life!’

"That,'' Rick Jackson says, "is the only way for us to make any sense out of what happened."

It might also be the way to get you, and the rest of the planet, to concur with me about Chandler's "Sportsman of the Year'' candidacy. Raise awareness. Raise money. Help kids.

Chandler Jackson was buried last July. For all eternity he now wears a bracelet that reads "Eat. Sleep. Play Ball."

Your kids might be out playing right now. Scratch your head. Dab your eyes. Consider Chandler Jackson for "Sportsman of the Year.'' And then celebrate your New Year by interrupting the kids and getting that hug.

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