Jeremy Wynne is covered in purple. Blue Springs Wildcats purple.
For a 26-year-old man who gets around in a wheelchair because of his muscles’ inability to relax, nothing could feel more comfortable, free and loose.
He wears a Blue Springs baseball cap, along with a custom-made jersey reading “Wynne” across the nameplate, and a giant No. 1 down his back. The piece that brings the outfit together — a pair of purple sunglasses — is difficult to miss, even if it’s after sundown by kickoff.
The wardrobe would be meaningless if not for the setting in which he wears it.
Every Friday night during high school football season, you can find Wynne on his alma mater’s sideline. Rain or shine, bitterly cold or scorching hot, he hasn’t missed a game in the five years since he graduated from Blue Springs in 2007.
This, by all accounts, is his personal heaven.
“That’s what he lives for,” said Steve Wynne, Jeremy’s father. “He’s interested in all sports, but his heart is with the Blue Springs Wildcats.”
Jeremy was once defined by dystonia, a neurological movement disorder that prohibits muscle relaxation. He’s battled the affliction for 19 years.
Now, he’s better known as the Wildcats’ 12th man — and the name behind an annual football scholarship.
“He’s living vicariously through us,” said Wildcats’ senior quarterback Wylson Lamb. “We’re happy to bring him along for the ride.”
Before opening kickoffs, Blue Springs players unstrap their helmets and raise them in the air with one arm.
Jeremy imitates them from his nearby spot on the sideline, removing his baseball cap and holding it against a darkening sky.
He smiles for big plays, throws both arms up to signal Wildcats touchdowns and even argues with referees. So goes the routine of the 12th man.
“One of my favorite parts of watching (game) film is seeing Jeremy’s excitement for big plays,” Blue Springs coach Kelly Donohoe said.
To open each season, Donohoe gathers his team — and Jeremy — in the locker room before the week one kickoff. He doesn’t talk about game plans, strategy or Xs and Os.
He talks about Jeremy.
For the past 11 years, Jeremy has roamed the Blue Springs sideline as his father pushes him in his wheelchair to help him follow the line of scrimmage. They move into prime locations to celebrate touchdowns, and players flock to Jeremy after scoring.
When they do, Jeremy extends his fist. The players bump his hand in return.
“The players make him feel like he’s a part of the team,” said Jeremy’s mom, Terri. “They really made his high school memories wonderful, and they continue to make him feel wonderful.”
Throughout his senior year in 2006-07, Jeremy talked about walking at graduation to receive his diploma.
Since being diagnosed with dystonia at age 9 — two years after he began experiencing its symptoms — he has required the aid of a wheelchair in public settings. His muscles are constantly flexed rather than relaxed, which can cause him pain. Excitement and anxiety, among other things, trigger dystonia’s harshest symptoms.
“We believed in him and knew he could do it,” Terri said. “But walking across the stage in front of a lot of people — it was a lot to ask.”
A decade ago, Jeremy had surgery to ease his pain — it did, but it also hindered his ability to speak clearly. He walks occasionally, mostly around his house with a walker, and takes 27 pills every day.
Beyond that, every 12 to 18 months, he must return to the University of Kansas Hospital and have surgeries to recharge the batteries in his chest, which connect wires to his brain.
Coupled with the dystonia, Jeremy has a learning disability. He graduated from Blue Springs in 2007 after spending five years in its special education department.
He now attends Developing Potential Inc., essentially a school for special-needs adults.
During his high school graduation ceremony, Jeremy stood up from his wheelchair. Using assistant football coach Marc Hines as a crutch, he walked across the stage and grabbed his diploma.
The football team stood and clapped. The rest of the student body followed its lead.
“That was emotional, even for us, to watch,” Terri said.
After Jeremy graduated, the Wynnes established an $1,000 scholarship, using money they previously planned to devote to Jeremy’s college education. They personally select a player that best reflects Jeremy in inspiration, perseverance and community involvement.
The players often look to him, too, for motivation. A year ago, when his battery life dipped low in November 2011, nurses recommended it was time for the next surgery.
Jeremy rejected the idea.
“No way,” Jeremy said. “It’s football season.”
As a youngster in Southern California, Jeremy loved playing sports. He was drawn to baseball at an early age, though he dabbled in basketball and gymnastics, as well.
Mostly, though, at least according to his parents, he was a fan. And nothing has changed.
Shelves in Jeremy’s room are filled with bobbleheads, athlete figurines and sports memorabilia. The wallpaper above his bed has a photo of a baseball swing.
A pair of basketball hoops hang from the closet door. Jeremy shoots from his knees.
That diagnosis 17 years ago ended Jeremy’s playing career. The Wildcats offered him a way to continue his fandom.
Jeremy started attending Blue Springs in 2002. After a few weeks of school, he came home and excitedly shared stories with his parents.
“A Wildcat opened the door for me today,” he would say.
As the days wore on, the stories became more frequent and more unique. His excitement, though, never changed.
“We thought for sure he was embellishing a little bit,” Steve said. “It was almost to the point that I felt like I needed to have a reality talk with him.”
Several weeks into the 2002 football season, Donohoe began eating lunch with Jeremy every day. He soon requested Jeremy return the favor and sit on the sideline during games.
“I needed one more assistant coach,” Donohoe said.
The Wynnes actually live in Blue Springs South territory, where the Blue Springs Wildcats are an enemy, not an ally.
Jeremy practically shares a backyard with Connor Harris, who played the role of Mr. Everything during Blue Springs South’s 2011 state-championship football season.
After games on Friday nights last season, Harris hung his jersey from the back porch, playfully flaunting it for Jeremy to see. Jeremy responded by wearing his Wildcats’ gear every day as he rode his motorized scooter around the block.
Harris has since moved on to play football at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.
Jeremy may have left Blue Springs High School five years ago, but he still wears Wildcats purple every day — especially on Fridays, even while his DPI classmates wear red to participate in the Chiefs’ Red Fridays.
As part of his speech therapy, Jeremy is the weekly sports announcer for DPI. He broadcasts sports news on the intercom on Monday mornings.
He leads with reports about the Blue Springs football team.
“I’m not sure who Jeremy would be without the Wildcats,” Steve said. “A major part of his life is the Wildcats. You don’t know what this means to him.”
But Donohoe counters, once telling Steve: “No, no, you don’t understand what Jeremy means to my football team.”
To reach Sam McDowell, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/SamMcDowell11.
To reach Sam McDowell, send email to <a href="mailto:email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org</a>. Follow him at Twitter.com/SamMcDowell11.