This spring wasn’t looking great for the Dodgers.
The team from the Vienna Little League Majors wasn’t putting up the best record, struggling more than winning throughout a particularly difficult season.
So it would have been easy – and was easy – for the group of 12-year-olds to give up, to just show up to practices and games and go through the motions.
But not Jack Donaldson.
“I remember that very much about him: how hard he would swing the bat, how hard he worked in practice, how hard he would go after the ball,” Dodgers Coach Bill Womack said. “I said to the boys, that’s how we should all play, all the time, all season. That’s just the kind of kid Jack was.”
Womack and some of those teammates from the Dodgers took time before their Saturday game to honor Jack, who swept away by the overflowing Piney Branch Creek as he played alongside the area where it met his Marcliff Court neighborhood. His body was found two hours later near where the creek crosses Lawyers Road.
To lose 12-year-old Jack so suddenly has been “heartbreaking” for his father Tim, younger sister Margaret and mother Anna, she said in an email Sunday night.
A memorial service to honor Jack’s life is scheduled for 2 p.m. today at Vienna Presbyterian Church. A reception will follow in the church’s great hall.
At the service, families in the local scouting community are planning to wear their uniforms in honor of the boy scout, who was in Troop 152 and had been a cub scout in Pack 78 for several years.
Donaldson had just started seventh grade at the Dominion Christian School in Oakton, but much of the family’s community was rooted in the church: Anna is a staff member, managing the church's Grapevine Bookstore, and the family has a core group of strong friends there. As the church kicks off its youth programs today, the loss of Donaldson will “be felt very strongly,” a fellow staff member said.
At 12, Jack was rarely silent, said Kelley Westenhoff, whose daughter babysat for Jack and Margaret.
He was “a lively boy with a great smile and a great attitude about life and fun,” she said.
But Donaldson was in many ways wise beyond his years – he was a brilliant and deep thinker; sensitive with a deep soul and vibrant personality, said Kim Jackson, a longtime friend of the family.
“Whenever you saw Jack, you usually saw him with a book in his hands,” Jackson said. “I think most times he would rather read than interact with anyone … he was intense, thoughtful, kind, funny and creative.”
In June, when Jack was in her photography camp, Jackson mentioned she too carried a book with her wherever she goes.
“The look on his face – that he had discovered a kindred soul – made me grin,” she said.
For that reason, he struck many as a bit quiet, including Womack.
“He’s an interesting young man, one of those kids who strikes you initially as being quiet and he was quiet, he wasn’t rambunctious like a lot of the other kids,” Womack said. “A lot of times kids like that are content to blend in, try to not do enough so they’re not noticed, but that wasn’t Jack. He gave a lot of effort all the time.”
In one game against the Giants, Womack recalls, a batter hit “a towering fly ball, the kind that takes a minute to come down to the ground."
“And Jack just cruised over, parked himself underneath it and caught the ball. He was awesome,” Womack said.
Jack was constantly trying to get better and improve himself, Womack said. He wanted to be an architect, and showed early talent at photography as well, Jackson said.
But there were lots of light moments too: When asked who he would meet if he could meet someone famous, Jack responded he wouldn’t want to meet anyone famous. One coach recalled a car ride in which Donaldson did an impression of a singer on the radio, drawing laughs from the other passengers. He loved acting and making people laugh, God, Legos, the New York Yankees and spending time with his friends, parents and sister.
It was an “incredible life they had together as a family,” Westenhoff said.
On Sunday, homes in Vienna began to show support for that family with blue ribbon, on mailboxes, trees, lamp posts and cars. Friends took to Twitter and Facebook to encourage others to participate; one of them reported Michael’s had already run out of blue ribbon.
“In the years to come you will hear more and more about the boys and girls who do well at school, sports, music – whatever – without trying,” Womack told the boys gathered around him before Saturday’s game. “In my time I’ve learned there are far more stories about kids like that than there are actually kids like that. So play hard – work to get better, and whatever the result know that you gave it your best shot. And in that way, try to live like Jack. “
The memorial service for Jack Donaldson begins at 2 p.m. at the VIenna Presbyterian Church, 124 Park Street NE, Vienna. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Samaritan's Purse, P.O. Box 3000, Boone, NC 28607.