Doyel: As Noblesville hero Jason Seaman heals, a community heals with him
NOBLESVILLE – They weren’t going to play the baseball games. Not here in Noblesville. Not three days after … that.
That was the school district’s first thought after evil came calling on a classroom at Noblesville West Middle School, where a student pulled out two pistols in science class Friday morning and opened fire. One classmate, 13-year-old Ella Whistler, was shot in the chest and airlifted to Riley Hospital for Children in critical condition. Science teacher Jason Seaman disarmed the shooter, but not before being shot several times himself.
This was terror. It was chaos. A baseball state playoff game? Here? Three days after that? Wasn’t going to happen. That’s what the school district announced Friday, hours after the shootings.
But then the people at Noblesville got to thinking …
Yes, they decided. A baseball game. Here.
Because life goes on.
The first game was Monday morning. By the time it was over, kids were giggling and parents were crying and the Noblesville High baseball team — the victorious Noblesville High baseball team — was singing the school fight song but changing the lyrics, changing them to send a message to Ella Whistler.
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'I deeply care for my students':Jason Seaman speaks after Noblesville school shooting
Before I tell you about the game, about the Noblesville players, about the song, let me tell you about Jason Seaman: He doesn’t want the attention. Can you imagine? This is his turn in the spotlight, the best kind of spotlight — he’s a hero — and President Trump is enthusiastically tweeting his name and "Good Morning America" is trying to get him on camera and he doesn’t understand why we don’t get it:
He didn’t do anything remarkable.
His opinion, not mine. My opinion? Jason Seaman represents the best of us, an adult with brains and talent who chose a mostly thankless career with long hours and little pay. He became a teacher. That right there makes him the best of us. What happened Friday, whatever he did to disarm the shooter, the details of which remain mostly unknown? That makes him even better.
He doesn’t see any of it that way, which makes him better still.
For the first time since the shooting, Seaman spoke publicly Monday morning. He fielded no questions at the school district’s administrative building, just limped slightly to the podium and read from a statement that lasted 2 minutes, 17 seconds.
“First off,” he said after nervously clearing his throat, “as a person who isn’t looking for attention nor entirely comfortable with the situation I’m currently in, I want to make it clear that my actions on that day were the only acceptable actions I could have done given the circumstances. I deeply care for our students and their well-being. That is why I did what I did that day.”
From there, Seaman redirects the focus to everyone else. He says he has been hearing “story after story” of the heroism of others, his way of asking the rest of us to please, please stop singling him out as the only hero at Noblesville West. He applauds the school resource officer and nurse. He thanks the surgeons, doctors and nurses who cared for him at IU Methodist. He thanks a kid named Jackson, a kid he says he’s never met, for starting a GoFundMe page to raise funds for Jason’s and Ella’s medical bills. He thanks the Noblesville community for supporting he and his wife “while still allowing us to maintain our privacy while we continue to process what we process.”
And he praises Ella Whistler: “Her courage and strength at such a young age,” he says, “are nothing short of remarkable.”
And then he’s gone. There was a baseball game in 45 minutes, a state playoff game. A Noblesville Millers baseball game. And as Jason Seaman had told us with his final words:
“I am still processing much of what happened, but I can say with absolute certainty that I am proud to be a Miller.”
One thing he didn’t tell us. One thing he might not have known, given that he’d never met the kid. One thing I definitely didn’t know until Monday: The kid who started the GoFundMe page, a kid Jason Seaman referred to as "Jackson"?
His name is Jackson Ramey. He attends Noblesville High.
He plays baseball.
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The game doesn’t start for 30 minutes, but the T-shirts are gone. Sold out. Yes, all 1,600 of them. The T-shirts are white and beautiful, an amalgamation of everything right about a story that started so wrong and would have been so much worse had Jason Seaman not done whatever he did — and we know he took three bullets — to stop the shooting before anyone was killed.
Before he was released Saturday from the hospital, Seaman issued a statement that thanked “the first responders from Noblesville and Fishers” and acknowledged he was “injured but doing great” and concluded with a note directed to the kids he teaches, kids he would have died to protect:
“To all students,” the statement concludes, “you are all wonderful and I thank you for your support. You are the reason I teach."
Put that on a T-shirt, right? Well, someone did. The T-shirt, white and beautiful, has the outline of a heart around #NOBStrong and those words — You are the reason I teach — and Ella Whistler’s initials. Someone at the school made 1,600 of them, and it wasn’t enough. A school employee picked them up on Sunday and took them home, and she found other teachers waiting in her driveway, buying shirts before she could get them out of her car.
The game starts at 10 a.m. but the tailgating starts at 7 a.m. Noblesville has a great baseball tradition, 2014 state champions but the turnout isn't a testament to baseball excellence; it's a testament to a town's resilience.
Dunker Stadium is completely full by 9 and traffic is backed up on Westfield Road at 9:15 and all 1,600 T-shirts are gone by 9:30. (More shirts are available online.) Pretty soon the free stickers are gone too, including a handful grabbed by someone from the baseball team, who slapped a sticker – heart outline, #NOBStrong, You are the reason I teach — on the back of each Noblesville batting helmet. So, yes: Every batter from Noblesville stepped to the plate on Monday armed with Jason Seaman’s words and Ella Whistler’s initials.
Hamilton Southeastern never had a chance.
The game is close because HSE is no joke, and HSE is throwing a no-hitter into the fourth when the Millers load the bases with one out on two HSE errors and a walk. Sophomore Ethan Imel singles to left center for a 1-0 lead. After a senior named Jackson Ramey strikes out — if this were a Disney movie, Ramey hits a grand slam; what happened on Friday was no Disney movie — senior Tyler Owens singles home another run. Imel drives in two more during a four-run fifth, and the Millers win 6-3.
They’re about to start singing, but you’re not ready for the song. You need to see what happened a couple innings earlier, when teachers from Noblesville West walked onto the field. And you need to see what happened a few minutes before that.
The announcement comes in the third inning: Will teachers from Noblesville West please meet under the red tent behind the press box?
Here they come, and man is this emotional. Many of them haven’t seen each other since Friday, when everyone was sent home after the shooting. Some of them are crying and all of them are hugging, including one teacher who keeps saying, “I’ve always been a hugging person in my personal life, but not at work. But this week …” And then she starts hugging. Nobody minds.
Nearby, a young boy is bragging to his friends:
“I saw Mr. Sea-MAN,” he says, emphasizing those last three letters.
“I did too,” the kid’s buddy says. “He waved.”
“He was waving past you,” the first one says.
He’s teasing, trying to act normal. Everyone’s trying, but normal isn’t easy on a day like this, and the game is paused after four innings to honor Noblesville West’s teachers. They walk onto the field, 30 or 40 of them, to a standing ovation. On the visitors' side, parents in the HSE section are standing and clapping. Some are crying.
They’re standing and clapping in the HSE dugout, too.
Something I’m noticing, something I’m sure lots of people are noticing as the teachers leave the field while the Huey Lewis song “Power of Love” plays on the loudspeakers: All those Noblesville West teachers on the field, and Jason Seaman wasn’t one of them. He’s here, though. I’m looking at him right now, standing way out in foul territory with friends and family in right field, past a padlocked fence and under a portable tent with a sign that says: “Reserved for Noblesville school administration and school board.”
Two Noblesville police officers are nearby, protecting Seaman’s privacy. A woman finds her way around the padlocked fence and approaches Seaman, and people are shouting, “Ma’am, ma’am,” but Seaman soothes the situation with a gesture: It’s ok. The woman is talking to him softly, and at the end she raises her voice just enough for me to hear: “Thank you, thank you so much.”
The game will end shortly, and Jackson Ramey, the kid whose GoFundMe page has raised more than $76,000 from 1,500-plus donors for Jason Seaman and Ella Whistler, is summoned to the tent way out in right field. They’d never met, but now they do. Jackson and Jason are hugging and smiling and posing for pictures.
Back on the field, the Noblesville baseball team is ready to punctuate this victory as it always does, with the school fight song. The Millers gather in front of the dugout and raise their hats to the sky and start singing:
“Noblesville, oh Noblesville, we’re alllll for you …”
That’s how it starts. They sing just two stanzas from the song, and the second one normally ends like so:
“Noblesville, oh Noblesville, oh Noblesville, we’re all for you.”
Normally, I said. But there’s nothing normal about this week, this day, this game. And so this is how the Millers end their fight song on Monday, after winning a game the school district originally didn’t want to play here — before deciding they absolutely had to play it here:
“Ella Whistler, Ella Whistler, Ella Whistler, we’re all for you.”