I keep track of happenings in western New York because I grew up there and my family is there.
With that in mind, I follow a variety of news sources on Twitter for updates on issues like what’s happening to the library in Irondequoit and the fact that one of the five Macy’s that are closing across the U.S. happens to be less than a mile and a half from my parents’ house.
That’s why, when Jason DeJoy died on Tuesday, I was aware of it pretty quickly, but still reflexively thought, “That can’t be right” when I saw the name attached to the tweet about a Pittsford teacher and coach.
But it was.
My memory of Jason from having written about him in 1997 and 1999, when he won the Gazette Stockade-athon, was of a vibrant, upbeat, dedicated person who also happened to be a very good runner, one who competed for UAlbany in the early 1990’s and later coached at The College of Saint Rose.
Everything I’ve read about him this week, after he died unexpectedly at the age of 40, has not only reinforced that notion, but amplified it.
When he won the Stockade-athon on a lousy, blustery day not conducive to fast times in 1999, he said, “I wasn’t concerned with time. It was almost for fun today.”
The beautiful part was the fact that he was just making a pitstop on his way back from having coached his cross country team at the state meet in Westchester County the day before. He was the coach at his hometown high school, Jamestown, all the way to the far western tip of New York.
It said something about Jason, and to a lesser degree about the Stockade-athon. One of the great mysteries is always who’s going to show up.
Jason most recently was in the Capital Region in November, when Pittsford Mendon won its first Class B state championship at Queensbury High School, beating a perennial power, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, in the process. Last year, Pittsford Mendon finished third at the state meet behind champion Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons.
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle named him coach of the year. In 10 seasons at Pittsford Mendon, Jason’s boys’ and girls’ teams each finished second at the state meet twice before the boys’ finally broke through this year.
In the D and C article this week, a colleague and a rival weighed in:
“It was always fun to compete against his teams, a friendly rivalry,” Rush-Henrietta coach Mike DeMay told the paper. “He was a competitive guy, and his team reflected that, but at the same time, they were good sports about it — win or lose.”
“One of the best, most patient and loving coaches I’ve come across,” Pittsford football coach Keith Molinich said.
Jason, who was a seventh-grade social studies teacher, is survived by his wife Arlene and their three young daughters.
Although the Stockade-athon has been around for 37 years, only seven men have won it at least twice, and Jason is one of them.
The race is like a favorite restaurant that you visit once a year on a special occasion.
They treat you like family, you have the menu memorized, but the best part — the fun mystery — is finding out what the specials will be.
In 1997 and 1999 at our race, Jason DeJoy was special.
And always will be.