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Students jump for Mitch O'Brien in annual jump-a-thon

Pinecrest Elementary students took part in the fifth annual Mitch O'Brien Jump-a-thon last week, honoring Mitch O'Brien and raising money for two of his favorite activities.

The proceeds will be divided between the physical education and art departments at Pinecrest and the American Heart Association.

Mitch O'Brien died in June of 2003; he was just 10. He collapsed while playing soccer with his classmates in a physical education class.

The students now at Pinecrest weren't at the school when Mitch was there, but those of the staff who knew him said he was a pretty special boy, including physical education teacher Gay Wilker, art teacher Julie Wolters and school secretary Lori Marsh, who formed the original Jump-a-thon committee.

Mitch's dad, Bob O'Brien, told a story about Mitch in 2006 that illustrates his character. He recalled Mitch's love for everyone. He even got his teeth knocked out because he stood up for someone, he said.

"Mitch got his share of bullying," Bob O'Brien said, "but Mitch would just walk away. He couldn't stand anyone else being bullied though. He stood up for another student and got a couple of teeth knocked out.

"And you know, the day after, he was a friend to the same kid who knocked his teeth out. That's just the way Mitch was. He loved everyone."

And everyone loves Mitch, and what he stood for. Pinecrest staff wanted an event to honor the young boy, and one that would help students heal and remember Mitch in a positive way. Wilker came up with the Jump-a-thon idea, having participated in the Jump Rope for Heart program in Iowa where she taught previously. In Pinecrest's version of the event, students collect money, pledges supporting them for jumping. Teachers support the event by supervising, planning, and printing T-shirts the students design. Mitch's Boy Scout troop has provided the water for jumpers. The DJ spins his discs and the kids jump.

Besides Mitch's dad, his mother, Lori O'Brien, and his sister, Brittany, attend the event, even though it takes an emotional toll.

In 2006, his mother said, "I'll be here every year they do it. It's hard, but it's a good thing."

She feels Mitch is close when she's at the event.