Landon Jaros served as the sentimental anchor for the Platte County football team all season.
The decals with the 4-year-old boys’ initials on the back of the players’ helmets took on even more significance last week three days before the Pirates’ game against Winnetonka. Players and coaches came together, trying to find ways to pay tribute to the son of assistant coach Todd Jaros after Landon Jaros died Tuesday, Oct. 18 due to complications from cancer.
Fittingly, the initials were always right there, appropriately located at the base of the anchor on the teams’ new helmet decals for this season.
“It’s been a really tough week for all of us, coaches and the community, too,” said Platte County senior quarterback Justin Mitchell, who grew incredibly close with the little boy during his time in high school. “It’s just something you never want to see happen, especially to a young kid like Landon who was loved by many people. We just knew we had to come together like a family.
“There’s a lot of sentimental value to the (decal) now.”
A community came together like a family in the aftermath of Landon Jaros’ untimely death.
Diagnosed with T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in late March, Landon showed signs of progress before a sudden turn left him fighting for his life. He lost that fight at 3:55 p.m. on a Tuesday, leaving family, friends and a community grieving.
Tributes big and small were on display during the week from the Platte County R-3 School District and surrounding community.
Hundreds turned out for a celebration of life ceremony on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 22 at Vineyard Church in Kansas City, Mo. Many of Todd Jaros’ current and former students were on hand to join in an overwhelming show of support for the family that included friends, co-workers and probably casual acquaintances.
A private internment ceremony followed in St. Joseph, Mo.
“I am indebted to how well we as a team, as a family at Platte County, pull together when needed,” Platte County assistant superintendent Rob Gardner said while addressing the district’s board of education Thursday, Oct. 20. “The Jaros family needs our help right now. I’m just really proud that we do embrace family as one of our traditions here.”
Todd and Megan Jaros – Landon’s parents – were both Platte County graduates and have remained very involved in the community.
Landon ended up becoming a little brother to many of the students and athletes Todd taught and coached. Landon became especially close with the football, baseball and volleyball teams, although the red-headed spark plug seemingly loved all sports equally during his all-too-short life.
The football team changed up its entrance ahead of the Class 4 District 8 opener with Winnetonka.
The players gathered in a line in the back of the south end zone and marched toward midfield with arms interlocked while offensive lineman Ryan Lett somberly played the bagpipes in front of a silent stadium. Mitchell took the spot in the middle and carried a football painted orange with the initials “LJ” written in black.
In addition, Winnetonka’s players wore orange helmet decals in a show of solidarity with coaches sporting orange lapel pins. Both teams took part in a moment of silence, leaving the crowd peacefully quiet for a few moments after the observance.
“It was probably the hardest speech I’ve had to give kids,” Platte County football coach Bill Utz said of talking to his players Tuesday afternoon. “Landon is such a sweet kid, but I challenged (the kids) to be mature and help coaches, as well. I thought they’ve done that all week long.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 19, hundreds gathered on the Platte County High School baseball field – another of Landon’s favorite spots – to share memories in a brief fellowship. The shows of support continued, some as quiet and anonymous as workers at Siegrist Elementary arranged flowers in an area of landscaping in the shape of the letters L and J.
On Thursday, Oct. 20, the Platte County soccer team took the opportunity to pay its respects.
The Pirates took the field against Winnetonka with only 10 players, allowing Landon’s spirit to be the final member of the team. They played a man down for the first four minutes, representative of Landon’s four years of life. Assistant coach DJ Lugo came up with the idea and the players rallied around the opportunity.
Prior to the game, the 10 starters lined up for the national anthem with senior defender Zach Rolofson carrying a custom orange No. 4 jersey with Landon’s name on the back.
“I was pretty honored DJ asked me to do that,” said Rolofson, a student of Todd’s in fifth grade who acknowledged the coach’s love of soccer. “It was a big deal. It was really emotional throughout the game.”
For the football game, Platte County’s student section dressed in red – Landon’s favorite color. A Styrofoam cup decoration of a L and J on either side of a heart was put in the chain link fence across from the stands.
Perhaps fittingly, Gabe Middleton rejoined the Platte County coaching staff with Todd Jaros away from his duties. Middleton wore his customary red Northwest Missouri State hat, allowing his position group on defense to easily identify him but also providing another reminder on the field of Landon’s memory.
“Those ideas, everything we did came from a collective group,” Utz said.
All of the tributes paid during the week went to one four-year-old boy who unknowingly impacted so many lives in the Platte County community and beyond.
In the initial stages of his cancer treatment, friends and family sent videos for Landon to watch in the hospital, an effort that eventually expanded to include Laurence Leavy, aka “Marlins Man,” and Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer. The Platte County baseball team sold #PrayForLandon bracelets with the proceeds going to help the family.
The orange and black “Go, Fight, Cure” T-shirts became a staple for many of Landon’s supporters, and district officials allowed staff and students to wear them early last week when it became apparent an unexpected setback had occurred in his fight with cancer.
As the struggle with cancer continued, Landon received a visit from Kansas City Chiefs safety and cancer survivor Eric Berry. He participated in Sporting Kansas City’s Victory Project, receiving a chance to meet players and coaches as a special honoree at a game this summer.
Landon Jaros loved sports so much, and that legacy will endure.
Landon packed so much enjoyment into his life, and he would've loved to see what happened at Pirate Stadium on Friday night.
Platte County defeated Winnetonka 52-14 and advanced to the District 8 semifinals. Clearly, the memories of Landon’s spirit will endure with the team in the coming weeks and in the lives’ of the all of the people touched with his infectious personality, unending optimism and perfectly crooked smile.
“It was never about us … #LJ,” Platte County junior safety Kobe Cummings tweeted Saturday afternoon followed by emojis of a single finger pointing up and a heart.
Currently, the emotions are raw for a community attempting to grieve, but one simple phrase kept coming back up – Landon Jaros’ own incredibly insightful advice while enduring his first lengthy stay in the hospital: “This is hard, but we aren’t going to live here forever.” Family and friends know the current pain will be temporary, but Landon’s impact will be permanent.