Diagnosis set family on different path

Posted 8/24/23

Life changes, often in dramatic moments – moments which rewrite priorities, challenge faith, stress hearts and cause questioning of everything one believes in. 

Mineola athletic director Luke Blackwell and his family have had more than their share of these dramatic moments over the past two years.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Diagnosis set family on different path


Life changes, often in dramatic moments – moments which rewrite priorities, challenge faith, stress hearts and cause questioning of everything one believes in. 

Mineola athletic director Luke Blackwell and his family have had more than their share of these dramatic moments over the past two years.

Possibly the most shocking moment for Blackwell was standing in his son’s hospital room and hearing the word leukemia for the first time. 

Just days prior, the family – Luke, his wife Ashley, daughter Allyson and son Jase – were on holiday in Branson, Missouri. Jase was experiencing some increased pain in his joints. He had previously been diagnosed with childhood arthritis.

The family made plans immediately for an MRI to investigate the increased joint pain. Luke and Ashley were briefed that should an infection be present, it would necessitate movement to the emergency room. 

When the move to the ER came, they knew it had been a possibility. The shock came shortly thereafter when further tests revealed that word: leukemia. 

“Our minds had never gone there,” Blackwell confessed. It was the beginning of what was a horrific weekend. It was Friday and the pain mitigation for Jase was not effective until Monday.

In typical Blackwell fashion, Luke began to digest the information in small chunks. Take care of Ashley, comfort and communicate with Jase, and ask oneself – what can I do right now?

The questions came relentlessly. Among them was: where do you want your child to be treated? Oh, and the answer was required by Monday morning.

Blackwell rallied all his contacts and made arrangements for Jase’s admission to a specialized hospital in Houston. While on the phone with an admissions counselor, Blackwell asked the lady, who had heard the whole situation explained, what she would do. She responded, “Stay right where you are at.”

Blackwell recounted, “It was the best decision we could have ever made.” Not only did it begin a long and successful relationship with Dallas Children’s Hospital, but it was also one of many instances over the past two years when people seemed to be placed into the Blackwells’ lives to help them.

That moment – the leukemia moment – forever altered the trajectory of the Blackwell family. 

Luke Blackwell began his coaching career in Coldspring. There were plenty of challenges.

“I was not overly ambitious,” he recounted, “I wanted to learn everything I could about coaching…I wanted to master the thing.” By his own admission, learning came from observing the good examples and the bad examples which he witnessed within the coaching profession. As he explained, one had to learn from both. 

He had also never set out to return to his alma mater (Mineola, class of 1995). But, when that came to pass in 2007, Blackwell accepted it as a case of being placed where God wanted them, the family, to be.

His time at Mineola was successful by every measure.

The Mineola athletic department came to define excellence. There was also a state championship football title with Blackwell as defensive coordinator.

Once he ascended to the athletic director/head football coach, the Yellowjackets came to be known for an unquenchable competitive fire. From the gridiron to the track to the cross-country trail, Mineola athletes competed and often won. 

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia has some things in common with scholastic athletics. Most notably, it takes intense focus over time, an exhausting attention-to-detail and resources.

As Blackwell pointed out, there is no single treatment regimen for leukemia. There are a series of treatments.

The simplest example of this is Jase’s schedule for hospital visits. Once he was stabilized and on a treatment program, the family was required to be at Dallas Children’s Hospital once a week. A year and a half after diagnosis, and with continued improvement, these visits may go to monthly.

That does not, however, account for the specialized radiation treatments or addressing myriad secondary conditions which can be just as life-altering as the leukemia itself.

One of the underlying conditions robbed Jase of his mobility. The third-grader is, as this is written, regaining his ability to walk – fighting his way from a wheelchair to a walker to his own legs.    

As difficult as leading a family through this disease is, Blackwell summarized his greatest concern, “He is just a little boy; he wants to do little boy things.”

Care-giving in such circumstances can be heart-wrenching. Blackwell described having to administer heavy-duty hypodermic treatments. It is the balance between protecting Jase and providing for Jase, however, which may take its biggest toll.

What parents don’t want to see their child play?

Blackwell defined the circumstances as simply grueling. His source of strength is enlightening.

“I can’t imagine,” he stated, “having to go through something like this without the foundation of faith. That is the only thing at times that gives you any power at all…turning it over to God.”

Ever the coach, Blackwell explained how living through adversity is a prime lesson of scholastic athletics. Hurt, loss, challenges and pain are a part of life. In order to prepare young people for that there must be examples to follow. 

Last spring, it was a phone call from another East Texas school which sharpened Blackwell’s focus on Jase’s continuing battle at hand. The coach was offered a football head coaching job with no athletic director duties – no interview required.

Although he had turned down the offer, it began a process which resulted in him turning over the reins of Yellowjacket football to Aaron Slider.

“I needed more head space and time to do all I can for my family,” commented Blackwell.

He described how football has a way of consuming one’s waking hours, and he could see the need to reconcile his priorities.

“I need to be there for Allyson as well,” he added.

With the support of the administration, friends and community, Blackwell retained his position as athletic director.

“Aaron Slider is a man of great moral character and an excellent example for all our athletes,” Blackwell stated.

Slider is transitioning to head coach after four years as offensive coordinator.

Asked about his favorite memories from his time with Yellowjacket football, one could sense a string of amazing football games click through his head: the comeback last year against Pottsboro, the 17-14 win over Gladewater three years ago, the Bullard comeback, the duals against Winnsboro.

After a moment, however, he admitted it was receiving calls and visits from his former players that are the most treasured memories.

Before concluding the interview, the athletic director recounted another visit, this one from a turf salesman.

“He was in this office for a half an hour and we never spoke about turf once,” Blackwell said. “He greeted me with scripture and we talked about the word of God for 30 minutes. Like so many times in the past couple of years, I was sent some help from God.”

Blackwell offered three recommendations for people fighting through challenging circumstances: seek the wisdom of Christ, network with others and allow people to brighten your life. He smiled, “God will be glorified in the process.”

Most encouraging is the fact that Jase is doing well in his present treatment regimen and is anticipating an end of treatment in September 2024.

“We feel incredibly blessed and uplifted by the continued support and encouragement from this community,” Blackwell offered.