Life wasn’t over for Jarrid Matteson in 5th grade, the difference he made in the Wellsville community was just beginning

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Jarrid’s eyes and smile show the pride he had for his wife, Katie and their daughters, Mya and Gracie.

A column by JOHN ANDERSON

It was small court basketball season in Wellsville. A time when each 5th and 6th grade child on a Saturday plays in their first real game with a score. Coaches, referees and the results in the newspaper.

Jarrid Matteson took the court and dominated. He was taller than everyone else and just as athletic as the smaller guards.

Scott Lanphier knew Jarrid from class, but they wore shirts with different colors on this day, red and purple. Scott was going to shut down Matteson with his defense.

“I didn’t. I fouled out,” Scott says with a laugh.

A friendship came out of the violence, but then something else happened that created a bond.

In 5th grade, Jarrid’s sports career came to a halt and almost his life. He was diagnosed with cancer in his leg.

For the next 17 years, Jarrid would have a leg that was one bad step away from snapping. He found his true passion, volunteering to help save the lives of others.

Scott grew up running around the fire hall and ambulance bay with his family and Jarrid was hooked. He became a member of the Wellsville Volunteer Fire Department, the Wellsville Volunteer Ambulance Corps and even worked on weekends with Track Rescue.

In 2003, I first met Jarrid. I did not know him. He came to me in the elementary school gym the first day of junior varsity baseball tryouts and wanted to play. I let him try out. That first day I saw he couldn’t take the pressure of his hips turning and keeping his front leg stiff when hitting. He could throw and catch. He had a great attitude and I figured he could play left and first base.

Usually after the first day of practice, you don’t have a parent meeting. But that’s when I first met his mother, Tammy. She asked me if I knew the risks. I did not.

Jarrid took command of the conversation. He didn’t want to graduate from high school without one chance at playing sports again. I made a promise to Tammy that I would not put Jarrid in a position to get hurt. She gave her blessing, but she was concerned. So was I.

Jarrid would play a little in the field and pinch hit. When he would draw a walk, I would put in a pinch runner.

The season was winding down and we were playing our final game in Island Park against Bath. I had not started Jarrid all season. This was his time. He started in left and his friend Steve Kear was pitching. A pretty good lefty, Kear was cruising, but he started to tire. “I feel great,” Steve said, “don’t take me out.” He didn’t look great. But two high line drives to left field in the fifth and sixth innings were stabbed by Jarrid, catches no one else could make because no one else had a wingspan of eight feet!

With the score tied at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth, Jarrid lined a base hit to left center. He hobbled down the line. His family cheered. I looked to the bench for the pinch runner and he said no. I looked to his mom who gave me the wide-open eye look that said ‘he could get hurt.’

Jarrid always obeyed his coaches and teachers. I never told him NOT to steal. He took off for second. The catcher threw high, he was going to be tagged out. He slid. The dust cleared and the umpire screamed “safe.” His teammates were screaming and cheering, his mom was praying he would get up. He did. Two batters later, he scored the go-ahead run. We won, 3-2 and he got the game ball and a huge hug from mom.

In the movie Field of Dreams, Doc Graham had a chance to play sports or help others. He played one game and made the decision to help others. Jarrid handed me his cleats and told me to give them to someone who could use them. He was retiring to focus on emergency services.

Fortunately, he also focused on a family. He married Katie Williams and they adopted a daughter, Mya. The couple then had another daughter, Gracie. He had his pride and joys.

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As we all know, cancer is horrible. It festers. It never truly goes away. It hides. It came back so bad five years ago, doctors had to amputate his leg.

But the cancer was spreading. 

He continued on living.

He served as chairman for the Wellsville Volunteer Ambulance Corps and started driving an ambulance with his friend Scott for MTS.

The trips changed. Jarrid was no longer the driver. He was no longer a passenger. He was the patient.

He put up such a heck of a fight, chemo, radiation, all different pills and potions.

“He never complained. He fought for his daughters, that kept him going,” said Scott. “It’s amazing to me the difficulties he was going through, the pain … but he always put his family first, his wife and kids and then emergency services in Wellsville. On his worst days he was still involved with the fire department.”

Knowing he didn’t have much time left, he wanted to be involved as captain of the fire department. The department is in the process of purchasing a new tanker and Jarrid’s knowledge was key in the important financial phases and initial needs assessments.

Scott likes to say Jarrid wrote his own story. Entering the awkward stages of middle school without the ability to participate in things other kids could, Scott said teachers like Jen Sorochin were instrumental in giving him support and being in a small community, the students knew what he was going through and gave him support as well. That support continued through his life.

But now, cancer had sucked that life out of him.

Jarrid refused to simply go to Rochester and Buffalo to get treatment, feel better, go home and then get more treatment.

For the last two years, treatment day meant doing something. Scott and Jarrid would play nine holes of golf. They would have whatever day they wanted. On the non-treatment days, Jarrid would call Scott on his way to work and go over calls he heard on the scanner. Jarrid wanted to make sure things were being done correctly.

Jarrid never let the pain of cancer stop him from going on calls or living life with Scott Lanphier.

If you had Jarrid’s cell phone number, you received his #1 reply by text: “I’m not that sick.”

But 25 years of cancer finally caught up with him. Two weeks ago, he was in a hospital room in Buffalo watching his Buffalo Sabres hockey team. He was released the next day and Jarrid found the strength to go to a game with Scott. When they would golf the Wellsville Country Club, there was an embankment on the third hole. Scott would hold Jarrid up so he could swing. They refused to stop living.

On Saturday night, Nov. 12 at Jones Memorial Hospital, they watched the Sabres game from the emergency room. They had to get to Rochester to Strong Memorial.

Jarrid wouldn’t make it home.

But he kept fighting for another four days. Gracie and Mia spent Wednesday morning with him. Then he was joined by eight close friends and family members. He requested to come off the high flow oxygen.

Scott will never forget the time. “2:02.”

Jarrid Matteson was just 36.

Today is his calling hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Olney-Foust Funeral Home on 296 North Main Street in Wellsville.

The emergency services will have a majestic procession for him down Main Street when it is over.

Jarrid didn’t want a mourning session. He wanted a party. His wishes will be granted at 3 p.m. at the Willing Fire Hall.

People who save lives like Scott Lanphier will work a little harder without Jarrid. We will see the benefits of his planning and work with the fire department and the ambulance fleet.

We will witness two amazing daughters grow up.

For an amazing 25 years, he made a difference despite living with cancer.

Tonight, I’m going to grab one of those Diamond baseballs from 2003 off the shelf in the garage and hold it as I watch the Sabres game. And remember Jarrid’s 36 years of victories.

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