Sale of jerseys to help family of Sioux City player

06/15/02 Sioux Falls Argus Leader
Storm stepping in for 8-year-old battling aplastic anemia

It might well be the NIFL's sauciest rivalry, so everyone knows what to expect: jawing, taunting, even bona fide hard feelings. But put tonight's Sioux Falls-Sioux City game under a microscope, and you'll find a wispy trace of sweet humanity.

The last year and a half has been especially cruel to Steve Schmidt's family. The Bandits lineman has watched Jake, his 8-year-old brother, wage a gallant fight with aplastic anemia, a disease that strikes the body's bone marrow. It has kept him confined to a Minneapolis hospital since August.

To the Schmidts' aid has come an unlikely volunteer. Tonight, during the latest rejoining of this rivalry, the Storm players will wear commemorative jerseys that fans can bid on during an in-game silent auction. All the proceeds will help pay Jake Schmidt's doctor bills.

"I feel real honored by this," Steve Schmidt said. "I really want to thank the Storm organization for this. It really means a lot."

As it turns out, the Bandits-Storm feud isn't without some warm feelings. During his days at the University of South Dakota, Steve grew chummy with the Haines brothers, Jesse and Wyatt - both of whom now play for Sioux Falls. At USD, the three of them were teammates on the football team and roommates.

And now, even though they are on the opposite sides of the I-29 war, they have remained close friends.

In fact, it was Jesse Haines who suggested to Storm owner Ted Thoms that proceeds from the auction go to Jake Schmidt. Over the months, Jesse has watched all of the Schmidt family's struggles.

"One day, Steve called up and said that Jake isn't doing too well," Jesse said. "So my brother and I loaded up and we went to Minneapolis. And when we were saying goodbye, we thought it might be the last time."

There have been numerous "last times" for Jake Schmidt. On more than one occasion, doctors have given him only days to live. But he has always rebounded.

"Usually kids who go through what he has, they don't make it," Steve said. "They usually just give up. ... He's so smart for his age and he knows what's going on. He fights all the time."

In November of 2000, when Jake felt the first symptoms of the disease, he was taken from the family home in White River to Sioux Falls. Doctors gave the Schmidts two options: Use medication and hope his body will mend itself, or opt for a risky yet proactive bone marrow transplant.

Steve and Jake's mother had died four year earlier, so the decision came down to Steve and his father, Ted. They opted for the transplant.

But as is the case with many of these procedures, the surgery hasn't worked out perfectly. Jake's body hasn't totally accepted the new bone marrow, leading to a condition called GVH - graft vs. host.

"The new bone marrow doesn't recognize some of the soft tissue in the body," Steve said, "like stomach lining and intestine lining. So it attacks it, thinking it's a foreign object."

So Jake is pumped with drugs and kept isolated from flu viruses and cold bugs - annoying to most people, but deadly to him. There is no telling how long his ordeal will last.

During the first eight months of Jake's illness, Steve was at his side almost constantly. But the situation began to wear on him. He stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Minneapolis, and remembers watching only "eight or nine" of 50 children survive their diseases.

"When you see the preacher coming, you know that it's the end for someone; they're giving them the last rites," Steve said. "You almost resent seeing the preacher around there.

"It was getting to me," he added. "I told my dad, 'I can't do it. I've got to go do something else.' So I talked to the coaches down here, and they had me come down and play another season with the Bandits."

While his thoughts are still with his brother, football has allowed Steve a brief yet needed escape.

"He still calls Jake and thinks about Jake every day," Jesse Haines said. "But for the hour and a half when they're practicing, he's just thinking about football. It's been good for him."

The Storm should keep that in mind. Despite his tight bond with the Haines brothers and his gratitude to the Sioux Falls organization, Steve is still a Bandit through-and-through.

"Oh, nothing about the game is different," Steve said playfully. "I still hate Sioux Falls."

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