A few days after the holidays, Mathew Ellis, the director and only employee of CARE Complex, a community organization that provides transitional services for the homeless, noticed a middle-aged man named George was wearing a letterman’s jacket to ward off the chill.
The jacket was navy, with black sleeves. It had a big block ‘C’ on front, a No. 69 football patch under the pocket, other patches suggesting the original owner had been a good athlete. The letterman’s jacket had seen better days.
It looked familiar to Mat Ellis, who had played on the offensive line at Mojave High School. He surmised the jacket’s original owner must have played for Centennial, a Mojave rival.
“I said ‘Hey, George, come here — let’s take a look at that jacket.’
“I recognized the number 69, and the year 2003 on the coat.
“I remembered lining up against this guy … “
Ellis couldn’t recall No. 69’s name — most interior linemen blend into anonymity, even in high school.
“I remember I couldn’t run block him worth anything, I know that.”
Mat Ellis took a photo of the jacket while George still was wearing it to ward off the chill. He posted it on CARE’s Facebook page with a message saying the jacket was keeping George warm, and that George was grateful.
“If you have ties to Centennial High School, or may know the original owner of this jacket, feel free to tag him and thank him for his sacrifice. His jacket has found a good home,” the message said.
Mat Ellis didn’t really expect anybody to respond.
But 167 people did.
One who responded was Steve Wike, the wrestling coach at Centennial. No. 69 on the Bulldogs was Franklin Cruz II, who also wrestled and was on the track team. A friend, a warrior, an awesome dude, as other respondents said.
Franklin Cruz was in his second year as an assistant coach under Wike when he died of a brain aneurysm in 2010. Franklin was only 24 years old.
Steve Wike reached out to Mat Ellis. It would be a wonderful gesture if they could present the letterman’s jacket to Franklin Cruz’s family as a keepsake of their son’s much-too-brief life.
But while this was being decided, George, who said he had acquired Franklin Cruz’s letterman’s jacket at a giveaway for the homeless, lost the jacket.
George lent it to somebody, somebody else hung it on a fence post, somebody else took it.
“So we’re like, crap, we’re never gonna get it back,” Ellis said. “But the homeless community is well-knit. You tell one person something, they all know it.”
A small reward was announced for the return of Franklin Cruz’s letterman jacket. Two days later, what was lost was found.
The Jock Shop fixed the patches, and All Star Dry Cleaners made Franklin Cruz’s jacket appear brand new.
On Tuesday night at Centennial, it was presented to Franklin Cruz Sr. and Franklin’s mother, Debra, and his sister, Crystal, and some of his cousins and nephews between junior varsity and varsity wrestling matches. Steve Wike choked up as he spoke to spectators, many of whom wore white shirts with the inscription: “Franklin Cruz. Coach-Teammate-Bulldog. Always Remembered.”
“He will always be part of the Bulldog family,” Steve Wike said, “Franklin was loyal, dedicated, tenacious — what a Bulldog should be. It was an inspiration to see it all come together, so his family could have at least one (tangible) thing to remember their son by.”
Franklin’s family was moved to tears. The jacket long ago was in a storage shed. Situations change. A jacket is forgotten … and then one day, out of the blue, it appears again, and the young man who wore it with pride is cheered, and tears are shed in his memory.
“It means everything because we thought we had lost the jacket,” a weeping Crystal Cruz said. “People we didn’t even know tried to help find the jacket and get it back to us. It means a lot.”
Mat Ellis also became emotional when it was his turn to speak.
He and Steve Wike had done a wonderful thing, but Ellis said this was a night to remember Franklin Cruz, a young man who had died too soon.
But he also said he would be remiss if he didn’t mention George, the homeless person with a heart every bit as big, who sought out Ellis after Franklin Cruz’s letterman’s jacket was recovered.
George shared a story about his 16-year-old brother having drowned in Lake Mead. And that after his brother died, all the family had to remember him by was a small box of his things. “I know exactly what this family has gone through,” George said.
Ellis invited George to the presentation. George declined. This wasn’t about him. This was about Franklin Cruz, and his family.
When I asked Mat Ellis if he knew where George was, how he might be spending the chilly evening, he said George was sleeping at the cemetery on Foremaster Lane near Channel 3, but that he had what one needs.