Jeff Ito finds refuge in being central to Waubonsie Valley’s success

SHARE Jeff Ito finds refuge in being central to Waubonsie Valley’s success

Central defenders like Jeff Ito have the most stressful roles on a soccer team because they are often tasked with stopping an opponent’s star striker while coordinating the rest of the back line.

But the Waubonsie Valley senior has found the soccer field to be a refuge from a different kind of stress.

Ito’s mother, Betty, has been battling breast cancer for several years and his father, Mitch, has heart disease. Their medical ordeals are serious enough that Ito has contemplated life without them.

“When I first heard [about Betty’s diagnosis] I couldn’t believe it because she’s always been so healthy and she’s always been there for me,” Ito said. “It’s been tough knowing that any day could we could lose her.

“It’s a likely possibility that she could not be with us tomorrow, so I really take that to heart. I know that I have to take every day and really live my life to the fullest because I know it could change at any moment because my dad has been fighting heart disease for a long time.”

Waubonsie Valley coach Jose Garcia has been impressed with how Ito has dealt with his parents’ health issues while playing outstanding defense.

“It’s a shock, especially at his age,” Garcia said. “You have so many other things to worry about like college. You have your own future ahead of you and you have to worry about your mom and dad being sick. It’s tough, but he’s a strong kid.”

Ito is the youngest of three brothers who have played soccer for Waubonsie. Brent, a 2010 alum, and Brian, who graduated in 2012, were starting midfielders.

Neither played in college, nor will Jeff, who is savoring his final year and takes pride in the Warriors’ 5-2-1 start. He held hold Benet star Kyle Kenagy scoreless in Waubonsie’s 2-1 upset on Sept. 11.

“My brothers, they both did really well in the program, so I had a lot to live up to,” Ito said. “Coach Garcia knows us really well and it just means a lot to know that I’m the last one here to make my mark on this school.”

Garcia has taught and coached all three boys and is close to their parents, who have been actively involved with the program.

“It’s a great family,” Garcia said. “It’s a little sad that we’ve got the last one but they take care of each other, which is great.”

Both parents attend most games and Betty helps take care of Jeff’s teammates.

“Mrs. Ito has been coordinating a lot of stuff along with a lot of other parents,” Waubonsie Valley senior co-captain Jon Braun said. “It’s just been great to have them here supporting us. They come out to a lot of our games, they run pasta parties for us before home games and they just contribute a lot to our team.”

Betty’s presence has been a comfort for Ito.

“It does it make it easier because as long as she’s supporting our program I know she at least has something to keep her mind off her disease and what she’s dealing with,” Ito said. “That puts me at ease to know that she’s not always thinking about this and what might happen next.”

The Itos share their concerns and hopes with each other at family dinners. Jeff knows better than most teenagers why he should savor those moments and Garcia said it makes games poignant.

“It’s interesting because [any game] might be the last game they see him play, especially with [cancer and] heart disease,” Garcia said. “You never know what is going to happen.”

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