Hartley: Jake Skelly stays upbeat amid leukemia fight

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Hartley senior football player Jake Skelly is unable to play this season after being diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Skelly, who has committed to Ohio University, attends Hawks practices and games whenever possible to support his teammates.

He wasn’t wearing pads, but Jake Skelly watched and listened as the Hartley football team practiced Sept. 21. 

Paying attention to how his teammates respond during drills, as well as when they’re competing, has never been more important than now for Skelly considering the role he’s playing this fall. 

An expected returning starter on the offensive line who was first-team all-district in Division III last year when the Hawks reached a state semifinal and finished 12-2, Skelly won’t step foot on the field during a game this season after being diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia on May 7. 

Skelly comes to practices and games whenever possible in support of his team, which is 3-2 overall and 3-1 in the CCL after beating Watterson 42-32 on Sept. 25 and plays its final game before the playoffs Friday, Oct. 2, at home against DeSales. 

“I try to give them moral support,” said Skelly, a senior who lives in Reynoldsburg. “I can see things and let them know via text that this is what you missed in your game, or whenever I try to come to a game, at halftime I’ll go to our team huddle and find the linemen and tell them what I’m seeing and what they can do better. 

“I try to make it out any time I feel good, honestly. There are some times when it’s a rough week from chemo, but whenever I feel good, I try to make it out here and support all the boys.” 

Skelly also was expected to be a key returnee on the baseball team last spring after seeing time as a sophomore at first base, outfield and pitcher before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the spring sports season. 

At about the same time spring sports were officially canceled April 20, Skelly began experiencing physical changes that caused concern. 

Skelly, who is 6-foot-4 and weighed 255 pounds last fall, suddenly lost his appetite and noticed unexpected bruising and bleeding. 

He had received eight scholarship offers to play college football, including from Ohio University, where he committed May 6. 

The next day, Skelly was diagnosed with leukemia and immediately went into the hospital for a week and a half. 

He lost 25 pounds. 

“I was out with a couple friends and noticed that I had a couple big bruises,” Skelly said. “There were days I wasn’t eating a lot of food and I love food, so it’s like, ‘What’s going on here?’ Whenever I’m eating food I’m happier. We went to my doctor and the next day he gave my mom a call back and said let’s get to (Nationwide) Children’s Hospital. … It was really scary to think about because honestly at that point in time, I’m like, ‘Am I OK? Is this going to affect me majorly because cancer can cause death?’ (But) everything was OK. My mom recently told me that when this all started, I had 87 percent leukemia cells in my body and after our first phase (of treatment), I was down to zero detectable leukemia cells, so we’re making tremendous progress.” 

Skelly initially went to the hospital weekly for chemo treatments but is now entering the hospital every 14 days for a three-to-five day stay to receive a 24-hour drip of methotrexate. 

“I’ll start at 2 (p.m.) and it’ll end at 2 (p.m.) the next day, but they’ll have fluids to try and get all the methotrexate out because it messes up your stomach if it stays in there too long and can give you mouth sores and all these different side effects,” Skelly said. “I have about two more phases until I’m in maintenance mode. In maintenance, I’m able to go back and play baseball (in spring 2021) and be back in school. I should be cancer-free in about two years or so.” 

Skelly is projected to play right tackle at Ohio University. He’s stayed in touch regularly with Bobcats offensive line coach Allen Rudolph since being diagnosed. 

This fall in Skelly’s absence, junior Daniel Tooson has stepped in at right tackle after he was expected to be at tight end, with senior James Crenshaw at left tackle, senior Tony Thivener at left guard, senior Sam Ray at center and junior Andrew McFeeters at right guard. 

“Honestly it’s been really difficult for me,” coach Brad Burchfield said. “I love Jake. Great kid. Incredible family. To see him not play his senior year of football has been hard on me. I’ve looked forward to his senior year and had a great image of what he would do and the experience he would have. I’ve seen him grow so much. I’ll never forget when he told me. I’m proud and inspired by him, but it’s been very difficult to think of him not playing his senior year with this class.” 

Skelly’s sister, Sami Skelly, is a 2016 graduate who played lacrosse for the Hawks and went on to play for Wittenberg. Another sister, Jessica Skelly, is a 2013 graduate who played soccer for Hartley and went on to compete for Denison. 

Their mother, Shelly Skelly, also is a Hartley graduate while their father, Daniel Skelly, is originally from the Cleveland area and played prep football. 

Jake, who is considering studying occupational therapy or physical therapy when he gets to college, has received emotional support from his teammates. 

“They all reach out to me all the time, asking me how it’s going,” Skelly said. “On Thursdays they do a senior walkthrough after every practice and Tony Thivener FaceTimes me during their walks, so he has me walk with them. It hits real close to home and I’m thankful for all the support. It keeps me going. 

“Everything happens for a reason. I’ve always told myself the whole time that God gives the hardest challenges to the strongest people and I’ve just kind of looked down the path and said, ‘There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s just keep going.’ ” 

julrey@thisweeknews.com 

@UlreyThisWeek