Playing for something bigger: Creighton, Sask., football team rallies around teammate with brain tumour

·3 min read
The Creighton Kodiaks got behind their teammate Caleb Janzen in a big way this year, bringing him in for fist bumps and cheers both on the football field, and off it. The team went on to become northern Saskatchewan 2A football champions. (Submitted by Jenn Johnsgaard - image credit)
The Creighton Kodiaks got behind their teammate Caleb Janzen in a big way this year, bringing him in for fist bumps and cheers both on the football field, and off it. The team went on to become northern Saskatchewan 2A football champions. (Submitted by Jenn Johnsgaard - image credit)

Caleb Janzen may not have played alongside his football teammates this season, but his impact went far beyond the field. Janzen inspired their season, as they played under the hashtag #WePlayForCaleb.

"Even though I wasn't able to play, it was still really awesome. I think I did even better this time than last time when I was playing," said the Grade 11 student from Creighton, Sask., the smile clear in his voice.

Earlier this year, Caleb started exhibiting strange behaviour. A couple episodes worried his family. Further testing revealed he had a brain tumour that would sideline him from the football season in the fall.

"That's something I hope no one has to go to. It's tough," said his mother, Jenn Johnsgaard, her voice breaking.

Ryan Karakochuk, coach of the Creighton Kodiaks, said the team had a conversation about how to include Janzen, who'd last played with them during his Grade 9 year.

"Our first thought when we heard — we were quite shocked — was what we could do to help," said Karakochuk.

"We wanted everyone to know he was still part of this team, even though he was doing a fight. And he was going to need us and our support more than ever."

LISTEN | The Morning Edition on how teammates on the Creighton Kodiaks supported Caleb

The team started off by sending him a Creighton jersey with his name on the back, and made a point to keep his stall in the locker room.

He began coming to practices, but at first he felt shy about coming out of the car, his mother said.

Submitted by Jenn Johnsgaard
Submitted by Jenn Johnsgaard

Over time, though, the team grew comfortable with including him in the practices, with the captains throwing in his name into their team huddles or his teammates bumping his fist and checking in on him, both on the football field and off. The team went on to become northern Saskatchewan 2A football champions

"It's just overwhelming, how they've come around him, not just on the field and at the game, but in class too," said Caleb's father, Darrell Janzen.

"Sometimes it's the ones that maybe you didn't see them having a friendship before, but they're the ones that are asking others to move out of the way so they can come sit close to him and help him."

Submitted by Jenn Johnsgaard
Submitted by Jenn Johnsgaard

For his part, Caleb said he's doing "awesome." He maintains a positive outlook on how things will go with his treatment. His teammates are part of that good feeling.

"They're supportive, they're there to help. I'm trying to help them by winning the games, and they're helping me by keeping me positive," he said.

Both Janzen and Johnsgaard said that as good as the team's response has been for Caleb, it's also great for the other young players' perspective on what truly matters.

"It just warms my heart. I cry multiple times because it's amazing to see young people at the ages between 14 and 17 play for something bigger," said Johnsgaard. "They play their hearts and souls out for him. it's so amazing to see — and I'm so proud of that team."

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