Returning the favor | Kingfisher Times & Free Press

As he stood on the gym floor looking up at the entire student body of the school that shaped his formative years, Jerry Mack Stitt couldn’t hold back his tears.

That’s not too far out of the ordinary for the 1990 Dover High School graduate, but on Wednesday afternoon, it was for good reason.

Stitt had just been presented the Friends of Basketball Award for Region I from the Oklahoma Basketball Coaches Association.

He was nominated by Dover boys coach Jared Reese, who also arranged for Wednesday’s assembly to present the honor.

As Reese stated – and as a video played during the assembly proved – it wasn’t an award from Dover.

It was from much of Kingfisher County.

So when Stitt began to address those students looking down on him, the tears rolled and the truth flowed: “Basketball saved my life from my drug addiction.”

••• Basketball and other sports helped Stitt get through high school.

The youngest of Jerry and Recea Stitt’s three children, he lived just west of the school campus.

“It was a two-minute walk to the back door of the gym,” Stitt said. “Sports are what helped me get through high school because I had no direction on any career.” Still, just three years out of high school, he landed a good job with Temtrol in Okarche.

But eventually a series of unfortunate events and poor decisions caused Stitt’s life to spiral out of control.

Unfortunate events included the May 3, 1999, tornado, which destroyed his home in Dover, uprooting him from the only town in which he’d ever lived.

Then, in September 2000, Stitt made the mistake of trying methamphetamine.

He was hooked.

The addiction gripped him and among the casualties was Stitt losing his job at Temtrol in 2001.

Stitt was just 28 years old at the time, jobless and hooked on a drug that doesn’t want to let go.

Yet he had to try to make a living, so he did his best to clean up his act.

He was sober on June 25, 2002, when he was working a construction job in Ada.

Tragedy struck when Sitt fell from an elevated work spot.

“They estimated I fell 27 feet,” he said. “I landed on concrete on my head.”

Stitt was flown to Oklahoma City and spent several days in intensive care and more time in multiple rehabilitation centers.

He suffered some shortterm memory loss and partial face paralysis.

Surgery and physical therapy allowed him to mostly recover. Mostly.

However, he did suffer permanent hearing loss in one ear on top of the ever-present brain injury, the effects of which have lingered in one form or another for years.

That includes pseudobulbar affect (PBA), a neurological condition that causes outbursts of uncontrolled or inappropriate crying or laughing.

For Stitt, it was crying. “That didn’t match how I really felt,” Stitt said. “Thankfully, God has 95 percent healed me from that hell, but to this day I sometimes have no filter with my emotions.”

Even though Stitt was clean from drugs at the time of his accident, he knows it was rooted in his addiction.

“I wasn’t doing meth when I fell, but I was doing that job because I lost my job at Temtrol because of meth,” he said. “It was all intertwined.”

The accident and its after effects pushed Stitt back into that addiction.

It beat him for more than a dozen years.

••• Jerry Mack Stitt was doing his best to dig out of those depths in February and early March of 2015.

He started keeping up with the Lomega girls basketball team, which had a talented freshman named Kenzi Lamer.

Stitt knew the family well as several Lamers were rooted in Dover, including Kenzi’s father, Mike.

“He was my idol when I was growing up watching him play for Dover,” Stitt said of Mike Lamer.

So Stitt was drawn in by the Lady Raiders as they claimed the 2015 state championship.

“I was one month sober the day they won it,” Stitt said. “I was so happy. I drove home an hour later and I just got to town and my old drug dealer texted me.”

“Are you looking?” the text read.

“And I relapsed,” Stitt said as he snapped his fingers. “I overdosed that day and almost died.”

But he didn’t quit. He stayed addicted to meth.

On Sept. 26, 2015, Stitt used the last of what he had on hand that night.

“It was bunk dope,” he said, meaning the quality was cut severely.

“I got no high. I went to bed early and fell asleep instantly.”

Sept. 27, 2015, was the start of Stitt’s new life…one free from drugs.

“That was my first sober day,” he says now.

But it wasn’t easy. Just a month after quitting that time, he was admittedly struggling.

His addiction was calling out for him.

“I was thankful I had one more chance to stop drugs,” he said. “But I was pretty down on myself.”

Something else was out there pulling him in an opposite direction.

Basketball season was about to begin.

“I knew they were going to be good again,” Stitt said of Lomega.

So he started going to their games at the beginning of the season.

“They were so much fun to watch,” he recalled.

Stitt found himself using his iPhone to shoot videos of Kenzi during the games and sending them to Mike.

“But I’d get so many videos of other Lomega players, so I’d send them to their parents,” Stitt said.

And so he became a fixture at Raider games at center court, his iPhone following the reaction.

Then came the process of putting the clips together and sending them out.

Several found their way to Facebook and players and parents alike couldn’t wait for Jerry Mack’s next video drop as he followed the team to yet another state championship in 2016.

Unbeknownst to Stitt, he was helping himself.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but those hours watching and editing clips and sending to parents the next day really helped me my first four months of sobriety,” he said.

Those games, those videos, that editing took Stitt’s mind away from drugs.

“That’s when it made me realize I could…that’s there’s life outside of a drug,” he said.

“And that’s why I say Kenzi’s Lomega team of 2015-16 helped saved my life.”

••• Eventually he branched out.

Stitt found himself at a lot of Hennessey events.

He became a huge fan of the Kingfisher boys’ team during its historic run that began in 2017.

There was still Lomega and of course his alma mater, Dover.

He started following and covering – athletes throughout the county.

Some of the players throughout that time stood out to Stitt.

A very short list includes the likes of Maci Mendell, Dayton Wymore, Seth Simunek and Courtney Cox.

But he cheered for them all. Loved them all.

He went to school with or played against some of their parents, so Stitt had that connection.

Once I get to know a kid, be it by a parent or by accident, then I look at each ball player like a niece or a nephew,” he said. “That really helps me get into the games even more.”

Yet others became even more personal.

There was the time in 2019 after Kingfisher won its second Class 4A state championship in three years.

Stitt ran into Jett Sternberger, the state tournament’s MVP, at a convenience store.

“He just started talking to me for a few minutes,” Stitt recalled. “He just stopped and took the time to talk to me like he knew me. He doesn’t know what that meant to me.”

In September 2020, Stitt made a post on Facebook about being five years sober.

Darcy Roberts, a sophomore at Lomega at the time, made an encouraging comment on the post.

Stitt never forgot it. “Things like that give me a connection to the players and teams,” he said. “It makes me really feel the game in my chest.”

••• Stitt’s videos also turned into post-game recaps.

When folks saw Jerry Mack at a game, they wanted to know what he’d have to say about it later.

As he said, sometimes he struggled to control his emotions and outbursts.

He might be critical loudly at times – of coaches or officials, whether at a gym or on social media.

But he was also always apologetic and always maintained good relationships with coaches and officials alike throughout the county.

One thing he was never critical of was a player.

He kept his comments about county kids positive, even in the toughest of times.

And it wasn’t always easy on him to be there.

Stitt admittedly tired of shooting and editing the videos. It became burdensome.

He also grew weary of driving to games by himself and even sitting by himself once at the gym.

Though surrounded by people, it was, at times, a lonely world for him.

He stated as such on social media multiple times and despite the support, he admitted he was getting burnt out.

The Dover teams of 2023-24 revived him a bit.

His alma mater had returned not only to respectability, but was winning at an impressive clip.

The girls made the state tournament for the first time since 2007, a time when Stitt was battling his demons.

The boys team won more than 20 games and reached area for the first time in a decade.

And so Stitt was there. By his estimate, he attended at least 18 of Dover’s games this season.

Reese saw Stitt in the stands during those years of the Kingfisher run from 2017 through 2023.

He saw him some more in 2023-24 with the Dover squads.

Reese had kept up with Stitt’s support of the county schools over the years and saw what it meant to people throughout the various school districts.

So when it came time to nominate someone for the OBCA’s Friends of Basketball Award, it was a no-brainer.

“It celebrates someone who positively affects basketball in your district,” Reese said. “And Jerry Mack for years has attended games and has greatly influenced many athletes in the area.”

When word came down that Reese’s nomination of Stitt had resulted in the award, he wanted to make sure the appreciation of everyone – not just Dover – was expressed.

He set up the Wednesday assembly with the entirety of the Dover enrollment to attend.

He also invited several parents, former players and even basketball officials to attend.

On top of that, Reese compiled a series of recorded videos of just a few of the people who couldn’t be there, but wanted to congratulate Stitt for his award.

They included Darcy Roberts and coach Kevin Lewallen from Lomega; Seth Simunek and Superintendent Jason Sternberger from Hennessey; Dale girls coach Eric Smith, a former coach at Dover; former KHS players Drake Friesen, Cash Slezickey, Xavier Ridenour and Jett Sternberger; local officials Kent Weems and Brandon Friesen.

There were also several clips from those in Dover like coaches Jared Reese, Matt Peck and Chris Combs; current athletes Ashley Gamez, Karlee Harviston, Katelyn Harviston, Madison Goodwin, Lucas Conrady, Casen Buck and Colton Burns; and Superintendent Jay Wood.

Videos also included fellow KHS and Dover “superfan” Clint Combs as well as Dover alum Dominic Bell.

Although the deliveries varied, the messages from all were the same: “There is no one more deserving. Thank you for all you’ve done for Kingfisher County.”

Stitt had inspired each of them – and countless others in one form or another.

Of course, the videos brought tears to Stitt’s eyes.

Though maybe uncontrolled, they certainly weren’t inappropriate.

The years of following and recognizing county athletes. The hundreds and hundreds of hours spent recording and editing videos. The hundreds – if not thousands – of Facebook posts bringing attention to the kids he loved.

It meant something. The cheers from the crowd and the video proved that.

The tears started again when Stitt took the award from Reese and hugged him.

They showed up yet again when he addressed the crowd.

“(My addiction) took a lot of years away from me,” he said. “So the kids that I support helped me more than I could ever help or acknowledge them.”

To date, he’s been sober for more than eight years and six months…and counting.

While talking, Stitt insisted he wasn’t worthy of the award.

“I thank all of you. I really do. This means a lot to me,” he said. “But I don’t deserve this. I’ve gotten loud with refs before…I’ve gotten loud with Coach Reese…” which elicited a laugh.

DHS Principal Nathan Nance disagreed with Stitt.

“Your testimony is an inspiration to all of us,” he said. “You are wrong; you are deserving of this.

“You may have gotten loud with refs or coaches, but you’ve never said a negative thing about a kid. You’re always for the kids and for the students and that’s what this award is about.”

Reese’s motivation for the assembly was two-fold.

Yes, he wanted to publicly recognize Stitt.

However, he’s also the elementary principal and had a message for those students.

“The main reason I wanted all my elementary students at this assembly today was to witness the impact that positive words and building up others on social media can have and can truly make someone feel better about themselves,” Reese said.

“Everyone loves themselves and is born selfish, but truly loving others is genuinely a difficult gift to possess and Jerry Mack has it. Those who possess that gift have the tendency to change schools, towns and communities for the better.

“They also tend to help develop that positive trait in others.”

Reese said the video compilation was proof.

“These kids will remember forever the person who believed in them and hopefully they will pass on that trait later in life as well,” he said.

••• Multiple times a year, Stitt will post about his brain injury, his drug addiction and how basketball helped pull him away from his darkest of days.

He knows he’s repeating himself when he sends out that message.

And he doesn’t care. “There might be some people who say, ‘Why do you even bring this up?’” he said.

“You know what? It might save one kid. It might. If it saves one kid, it’s worth it to me.”