Jami Wilson was an elementary school teacher for a short period of time.

Jami Wilson was an elementary school teacher for a short period of time.

It was her love of teaching children which drove her, but she taught everyone life lessons before she died at age 25 of the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma which had grown behind her sternum.

The second Jami Wilson Memorial Tennis Tournament will be Saturday at Delaware Hayes High School, where she was a 1993 graduate and coached junior varsity tennis before her death Aug. 2, 2000.

"The tournament is a celebration of Jami's life," said Delaware coach Bob Claymier, who coached Wilson on varsity for four seasons, the last of which she was a team captain. "She's still real close to my heart and I get choked up talking about her. But it is a fun event and one that she deserves for what she did for this city and for girls tennis at Hayes."

Wilson had a cough all summer in 1998 as she tried to complete her graduate studies at Ohio State-Marion, according to her mother, Lenni Wilson.

"She was young and completely healthy, but she had a nagging cough that summer," Lenni said. "Then she felt a lump on her lung and went to have it checked out and they found a large tumor behind her sternum. Tests proved it was non-Hodgkin's, which has around a 50-percent survival rate, whereas Hodgkin's has around a 90-percent survival rate."

That's when Jami took her love of teaching to a new realm, according to her father, Steve Wilson.

"It's funny, but she helped all of us deal with it by the way she dealt with it -- head on," he said. "Growing up, she had a low tolerance for pain. I remember how she hated doctors and needles. But for the 2 1/2 years she fought this cancer, she never complained once, even though they were sticking needles in her and testing her all the time. She taught us all not to back down from challenges."

Janean (Becker) Baumal, a former teammate and close friend of Jami's, decided to put together this doubles tennis tournament.

"Jami was an amazing person who I met on the tennis team and our friendship grew and grew," Baumal said. "I was two years older than she was, but we stayed close when I went to college and for the rest of her life. I live in Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) and we spent hours and hours on the phone and e-mailing.

"The reason I wanted to start the tournament is that the girls on the team these days don't know anything about Jami. There is a garden at the Hayes courts and there is also a plaque there with a little about her. But I wanted to do this to let them know more about who she was."

Lenni was most proud of the way her oldest daughter used her situation to teach her second-grade students at Conger Elementary, where she began teaching in the fall of 1999.

"She made the best of a poor situation and didn't beat around the bush or try to hide things," said Lenni, whose other daughters include Cari and Casi. "When she was going through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she lost her hair. She didn't buy a wig. She went to school without hair and explained to her students what was happening. She answered all their questions. The students showed their support by shaving their heads. The kids and parents were great."

Despite knowing the survival rate wasn't on her side, Jami earned her masters degree, accepted her teaching position and continued to coach tennis at Hayes.

"She kept living her life like nothing was going on," Baumal said. "She taught us about courage and perseverance. She was somebody you truly were proud to know. She was the best."

An earlier instance close to Lenni's heart was when Jami was told she might not be well enough to attend Cari's wedding March 20, 1999.

"Jami would get well for a while, then get worse," Lenni said. "But she not only made it to Cari's wedding, she got up and danced. She had a great time. It took a lot of strength, but she wanted to do it and she did."

Steve and Lenni said they were overwhelmed by community support, with people making food, providing them with gas cards for the many trips to Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital in Columbus and even paying to have the house cleaned.

"Jami wasn't allowed to be there when they cleaned the house. She couldn't be around the chemicals," Lenni said. "People helped in every imaginable way. We had to e-mail everyone with Jami's updates because so many people were calling and we'd spend all day repeating the details on the phone. So we began to e-mail and it was a really lengthy list."

Jami's outlook on life, sense of humor and upbeat personality remained in tact through much of her struggles.

"She'd be in the hospital and when she was up to it, the doctors and nurses would have her talk to other sick children," Lenni said.

Before her second bone-marrow transplant, Jami spoke candidly with her parents about creating a scholarship fund in her name.

"She knew the chances of surviving a second transplant weren't good, but there was no alternative," Lenni said. "We talked over her plans. She wanted the scholarship to go to a student who attended Conger Elementary, had a 2.5 or better grade-point average and had an enthusiasm for learning. That was the criteria she wanted.

"So we give away $2,500 each year to a student who fills the criteria. I think she'd be pleased with the students we've chosen. You can't help but feel good about it. Something good has come from something terrible."

The same can be said of the tournament, which has seven divisions -- boys ages 14-and-younger, girls ages 14-and-younger, high school boys, high school girls, men, women and mixed doubles. It is a round-robin event, to make sure everyone plays more than one match.

"Jami was really big into tennis," Steve said. "She loved to play and this is just a great tribute from her friends."

All proceeds go to the Jami G. Wilson Memorial Scholarship Fund, which is why Claymier took extra steps of hanging fliers at every court he could think of within Delaware County.

"While Jami has special meaning to those of us at Hayes, the tournament is open to anyone," he said. "We're trying to bang the drums throughout the county to let people know about this. Hopefully, this will continue to grow every year."

Baumal, who in addition to Claymier will be helped by another former teammate and friend of Jami's in Tara Franklin, said the tournament should be special for the community.

"Jami was an important part of Delaware," Baumal said. "She grew up in the city and never left. She lived, taught and coached there. She loved Delaware and put her effort and energy into where she lived. She shouldn't be forgotten, ever."