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Westminster teen who battled cancer remembered by community

Jake Offutt, 14, shown with his parents Leah and Joe Offutt in their Westminster home, was diagnosed with and underwent surgery for a brain tumor this December.
Jake Offutt, 14, shown with his parents Leah and Joe Offutt in their Westminster home, was diagnosed with and underwent surgery for a brain tumor this December. (DAVE MUNCHSTAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

In just a single year at Winters Mill High School, Jake Offutt became known among nearly all of his peers. Jake, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in December, was recognized throughout the school for his kindness, as well as his love of martial arts, video games and the Ravens.

Jake died Monday around 6 a.m. with his mother and father by his side, according to a Facebook post from his mother, Leah Offutt, on Jake's fundraising page.

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Jake first began experiencing migraine headaches when he was 6, and saw a neurologist for the first time when he was 10. Near winter break of his freshman year at Winters Mill High School, he was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare type of brain tumor. Jake had his first surgery Dec. 19 last year, when 90 percent of his tumor was removed from the fourth ventricle of the brain.

After his diagnosis, the Winters Mill community supported Jake, hosting a number of fundraisers and events for him.

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Jake's football coach and Winters Mill English teacher Matthew Miller said he was shocked by how quickly the students and staff, as well as Westminster community members, began to come together to help their friend in need.

"Some people spend four years of high school making inroads and getting to know people," Miller said. "It said a lot about his personality that as soon as he fell ill, people began rallying around him."

In January, the school held "Jake Offutt Night" during one of the team's basketball games. Students from Winters Mill as well as the opposing team, Manchester Valley, honored Jake with cheers, while the crowd dressed in purple to honor his love of the Ravens.

As the game started, he was joined by two special guest spectators — Baltimore Ravens running back Bernard Pierce and punter Sam Koch. The players exchanged phone numbers with Jake at the end of the night.

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Principal Eric King said the event was an incredibly touching moment for him.

"I was never prouder to be the principal at Winters Mill, or at any school, for that matter, then when all the chants started coming for him," King said. "They were coming from everyone there and coming from the heart. It makes you proud to be a part of this community."

During the event, they sold bracelets and T-shirts reading "Jake's Kickin' It," a phrase referring to Jake's karate experience — he was named a second-degree black belt in 2013 — and his devotion to keeping the cancer at bay. The phrase expanded beyond the T-shirts and bracelets to titling Jake's fundraising website and Facebook page. King said the mantra had a reach beyond the school itself.

"I would wear one of my 'Jake's Kickin' It' T-shirts around town, and kids would come up to me because they knew who Jake was. Everyone knew who he was," King said. "He just became a son that everybody was behind."

In addition to the basketball game, the community raised money for Jake and his treatments at the Run of the Mill color run in May and the third annual Dell Country Mile in early July.

Miller said he and Jake lived in the same neighborhood, but they became close last summer when he heard Jake was interested in the football team. During the fall season, Jake served as the team's manager. Miller said he was loved by the football team, with many of them visiting Jake in the hospital over the past couple of months.

"He was such a kind-hearted kid, and he really had this level of bravery about him," Miller said. "Here was this 15-year-old kid, and he was dealt this unfortunate hand. You talk to him, and he was just so happy to see us. It was just his personality. I hope if anything like that ever happens to me, I have the graciousness he does."

410-857-7890

Twitter.com/Jacob_deNobel

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