It was early in the 1991 spring track and field season and Jamestown High School senior Jason DeJoy toed the line for the mile. The official raised his starter's gun, fired it and Jason took off. When he finished - well ahead of the rest of the field - his time was 4 minutes, 31 seconds, which is still the sixth-best time in school history.
"He ran one of the fastest times in Western New York,'' said David Reinhardt, who was then the JHS coach. "He was ranked No. 1 or No. 2. Then he got injured, and that was pretty much his senior year. One or two races.''
In an effort to get back on the track, DeJoy attempted to stay in shape by training in the pool and riding a bike.
"He just worked so hard,'' Reinhardt said.
The stress fracture wouldn't cooperate, though.
"Every meet that I went to, everybody is like, 'Where's DeJoy? When is he coming back? Where's DeJoy? When is he coming back?'' Reinhardt recalled. "Unfortunately, he never got healthy and never qualified for the postseason. I think he had one race at the end where we were just trying to get him to qualify, but it was tough to do.''
Jason's final season as a Red Raider ended way too early.
"But, you know what?,'' Reinhardt said. "His spirit was positive. We had some kids qualify for the state meet and we ended up taking Jason with us as kind of a manager. We wanted him to be there, because he should have been there.''
It was during that weekend that Reinhardt, a SUNY Albany graduate and a former track and field athlete there, introduced Jason to Great Danes track and field coach Roberto Vives. A spring that started with injury ended with an opportunity.
"I saw,'' Vives said, recalling that day, "a person who was willing to give his all.''
Ultimately, Jason ended up at Albany and, by the time his career was over, he had contributed to two third-place team finishes at the NCAA Division III cross country championships, and he managed to qualify for the NCAA Division III outdoor track and field championships in the 10,000 meters where he placed 13th.
"(Running) was just in his fiber, in his being,'' Reinhardt said. " When you'd get to the line, Jason was always there."
Today, Jason, the married father of three girls and a decorated cross country coach at Pittsford Mendon High School, will be laid to rest at White Haven Memorial Park in Pittsford.
When he died unexpectedly on Tuesday, he was only 40 years old.
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Vives has been coaching at Albany for 29 years, but still remembers fondly his association with Jason, who still owns the sixth-best time in program history in the 10,000 meters.
"He was,'' said Vives via cell phone Friday afternoon, "someone who really worked hard, who was really committed and who was the ultimate team person.''
Among Vives' fondest memories of Jason was at the Division III regional cross country championships in the early 1990s when Jason was the fifth man.
"He didn't put his spikes on (before the race), so he was sliding around (on the course) and we just made it (to nationals) as the last qualifying team,'' Vives recalled. "We go to the national championships the next week and he learned from his mistakes. He had his spikes on, he really stepped it up and was closer to the other four (teammates). He knew the importance of the fifth man."
Albany's third-place finish at nationals that year earned an admirer from Tim Hale, the highly successful former coach at the University of Rochester.
"He said, "Roberto, I've never seen a team that finished third in a regional meet, finish third in a national meet.'''
Jason, who first developed his cross country prowess at JHS under former coach Mark Nystrom, played a large role in making that happen.
"That was the person he was,'' Vives said. "He always wanted to contribute, and he kept developing and developing."
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Jason, who coached distance running/cross country at JHS from 1998-2001, taught middle-school social studies at Pittsford Mendon and was also an assistant track and field coach there. But it was as the Vikings cross country coach where he really made his mark.
The 2012 and 2013 Democrat and Chronicle All-Greater Rochester Boys Cross Country Coach of the Year, Jason was the coach of the Vikings first boys state championship team and 10 Section 5 team champions. According to the Rochester newspaper, he led Pittsford Mendon to more than 300 wins inside the Monroe County league, and four of the boys and girls teams he coached were state runners-up.
Tony Dolce, a social studies teacher at JHS and an avid runner, first came to know Jason as a student and, later, on long runs through greater Jamestown.
"Literally, I ran hundreds of miles with him,'' Dolce said. "We were running partners. When he was a student, I used to try and push him along a little bit. After he was done with college, he'd gone to the next level. It was absolutely amazing. He would try and carry on a conversation while we trained, but we were going so fast I couldn't talk."
JHS cross country coach Steve Sipior had only been coaching at JHS a short time when he first met Jason.
"What I loved about him," Sipior recalled, "was he always was interested in what Jamestown was doing.''
So it wasn't unusual for Sipior to hook up with Jason at the McQuaid Invitational in Rochester each fall.
"We had to go find Jason,'' he said. "When you'd see their tent, it was like a small city with dozens and dozens of runners."
It's hardly surprising to Reinhardt then that kids have come flocking to Jason's program over the years.
"I've had kids who have won national championships and done real well in college," Reinhardt said, "but when you have an athlete who goes on to be a coach? I've had kids that have come back and helped me (coach), but Jason's taken the program to the highest levels in Rochester and in the state."
Noted Sipior: "He's already at the top of everybody else's game. I'm not fit to hold his clipboard."
Added Dolce: "He was very good with the kids. They all liked him. He was funny, he pushed them, but in such a way that was fun. He was very competitive, but he was also very compassionate with all his athletes. He got to know them very well and he took an interest in them, not only as an athlete but as a student as well.''
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Although he hadn't been in touch with Jason recently, Reinhardt did share the following Facebook message with me, which he received just before Christmas 2012.
Thanks for being a great coach for me and helping me get my career started back in the day. I appreciated it and I'm glad you referred me to SUNY Albany since that worked out well for me. Also thanks for taking me to the state meet that year. After coaching for quite a few years myself I realize that there are always more critics than compliments.
Judging from what I've learned about Jason in the last four days, I believe that last sentence is in need of editing.
"I think any coach in the area has tremendous respect for Jason as a runner and as a coach,'' Sipior said. "I wish I'd known him better."
Rest in peace, Jason.