Jackson youth remembered as winner in life and death

Friday, September 24, 2004

A basketball jersey bearing No. 31 hung from a brass rack in the sanctuary of Cape Bible Chapel. Jason Schafer wore that jersey as a member of the Jackson High School varsity basketball team, but his number is now retired. Schafer died Sunday night in a car accident.

"There will be a spiritual No. 31 every year," said coach Darrin Scott, one of the speakers at Schafer's funeral Thursday morning.

Jackson High School's senior class filled the pews at the church to say goodbye to their friend. On screens at the front of the church flashed photos of Schafer's life -- as a baby, with his brothers in family portraits, in a tuxedo with his date for the prom, with his teammates playing basketball, an informal portrait of a handsome, 17-year-old boy in a pullover shirt.

Schafer was so well respected that members of opposing basketball teams came to pay their final respects. His teammates, each wearing a white shirt, dark tie and a red carnation, filed to the front of the church and brought with them an autographed team photo to give to Schafer's parents, Robert and Shirley Schafer, and to tell them that their son's portrait will forever hang in the locker room "so he will never be forgotten," said team member Eric Poythress.

A friend once so vital and alive, is now gone.

"I can still see him walking with his strut, chest out, full of confidence," said Jack Puisis, a teammate.

Schafer was not one just to shake hands in greeting, Puisis said, but instead would clasp both his hands on a friend's shoulder. He and Puisis would visit each other's homes, each feeling like a part of the other's family.

"Calling him a friend was an understatement," Puisis said. "He was my brother."

His coaches held back tears as they described a natural athlete who loved basketball.

"He was not just a special player, but he was a special person as well," said coach Michael Kiehne. "He was always focused on the good of the group. I knew Jason Schafer as a student, as a player and as a fine young man."

Coach John Martin recalled how Schafer, one of the team's leading scorers and an all-conference selection last season, was looking forward to next year when he would play college basketball -- the next level.

"He's at the next level right now," Martin said. "He's at the Lord's university and will continue to be a shining star."

Because of Schafer's team spirit and influence, Scott predicts that Schafer's memory will live on as it inspires underclassmen to come together in future teams and "become engrossed in something bigger than themselves."

Scott reminded the mourners that Schafer may be gone, but "nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even an auto accident."

So many glowing words were offered to describe Schafer that Cape Bible chapel's pastor, Dan Greene, said that Schafer would be uncomfortable with all the attention. That he was a happy person is evident in family photos on the piano, he said. Of the three photos of Schafer and his two brothers, Bradley and Gordon -- each wearing the same outfit -- it was easy to tell which one was Jason. "He was the one in the middle with the big smile," Greene said.

Although he stood 6 feet 4 inches tall, Jason Schafer was known to stoop down to pet the family cats that others in the family occasionally teased.

He was polite, respectful, Greene said, and a faithful Christian. "He was a loyal friend who never said anything behind somebody's back."

Jason Schafer will live on not only in spirit, but because he was an organ donor.

"He was always doing things for people," Greene said. "He cared about others."

Offering comfort to the surviving family, Greene prayed that "the reality of Jason's faith would be so real to them it would fill them with joy."

Greene reminded Schafer's family and friends to look for signs from God that Jason is "soaring above us wondering what all the fuss is about."

Greene said that Shirley Schafer told him when she and her husband returned home from identifying their son's body at the hospital, she looked up at the sky and for the first time in her life saw a falling star. Greene said it was "God's special way of reminding her that he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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