Going above and beyond

South Haven High School senior John Ellis, left, is shown with freshman Damon Jackson. Ellis got to know Jackson when both were playing football for the Rams in the fall. Ellis is organizing a basketball game fundraiser to help Jackson and his family, since Jackson’s father died a month ago from cancer. 

SOUTH HAVEN — South Haven High School senior John Ellis enjoys theater. So when he had to come up with an idea for his senior project it seemed like a no-brainer – he’d raise money to take a group of middle school students to their first-ever professional theatrical production.

But when high school freshman Damon Jackson lost his father, 39-year-old Carnell Jackson, to cancer a month ago, Ellis changed his mind.

“When I heard about what happened to Damon’s family, I dropped my project and decided to put all the funds toward his family,” said Ellis.

He plans to raise the money by organizing a charity basketball game featuring members of the girls and boys varsity basketball teams competing against high school and middle school teachers and staff. The game is scheduled for April 18 in the high school gym. Tickets are $5 each.

“We’ve got some good players lined up for the student team,” Ellis said.

When Damon Jackson found out what Ellis was planning he was surprised.

“I was so happy. I couldn’t put it into words,” he said.

Erin O’Neil is an English teacher and theater director who is overseeing Ellis’s senior project. She said she was pleased with his decision to help Jackson’s family.

“As the theatrical director I, of course, was thrilled with John’s original project,” she said. “However I was not surprised in the least that John immediately changed his project to benefit a fellow Ram in need – that is simply indicative of the young man he is.”

The senior projects, which are required by senior English teachers O’Neil and Jake Crow, are referred to as “20 Time” projects. They were inspired by Google, which allows employees to use 20 percent of their time to work on any project of their choosing, O’Neil explained.

“20 Time projects allow students to also pursue their passions,” O’Neil said. “For these projects, seniors are given the task to create a project that will benefit others or the community. They can create any project they like, the only caveat is that they have to benefit someone other than themselves.”

Ellis got to know Damon Jackson earlier this year when both were playing football for the Rams teams. Ellis was playing varsity, while Jackson suited up for the freshman team.

Even though they differed in age, Ellis got to know Damon Jackson by the end of the fall season.

“I tried to reach out to the younger players. That’s what the older players did for me,” Ellis said. “It’s one big football family.”

When Damon Jackson’s father died in February, Ellis wanted to do something to help him.

“He is a good kid and his family doesn’t deserve to go through what they have,” Ellis said. “I found myself in a situation where I had the ability to help someone, so I felt as though I was obligated.”

Carnell Jackson, a South Haven High School graduate, battled cancer for five years before passing away Feb. 27. He had been employed as a line cook at Clementine’s restaurant in South Haven for 10 years before becoming too ill to work.

He also stayed active coaching Little Rams basketball.

Damon Jackson recounted that his father coached his team. “We went undefeated for three years under my dad,” he said.

Damon said what he liked most about his dad was his involvement in his children’s lives.

“He would always be there for me and help me with school and sports,” Damon said.