Hometown hero: Community members create a large card to thank Jason Seaman

Like many Mahomet community members, Elizabeth VanHoutan, owner of Yellow & Company, was shocked when she heard the news of 2007 Mahomet-Seymour graduate Jason Seaman's efforts to stop a suspected student gunman at West Middle School in Noblesville, Ind., last Friday.

"I was just really, really touched by his story," VanHoutan said. "I never met him, but it made me feel a connection with him."

VanHoutan's mother was a teacher for 20 years, and she credited her for instilling a profound respect for the high expectations teachers are required to uphold each school day.

Seaman's heroism inspired VanHoutan to provide community members with a tangible way to give thanks to the former M-S student.

"She texted me Saturday and said, 'Are we going to do anything for Jason?'" said Walter Pierce, Mahomet Area Chamber of Commerce director.

Pierce said the downtown Mahomet business owner wanted to allow community members to send cards to the seventh-grade teacher. After bouncing ideas back and forth, the two decided on one large card for people to sign at the entrance of the Mahomet IGA.

"I just did a painting on the front of the card with Mahomety colors," VanHoutan said. "I made it so we could add pages if we needed to."

On the front of the card is a quote from former American Gen. George S. Patton Jr. that reads, "Thank God such men lived."

VanHoutan chose the quote after seeing it on The Simple Palette's, of Champaign, Instagram.

"I'd been stressing all weekend for the perfect quote," she added.

Since Tuesday morning, dozens have stopped by the Mahomet IGA to sign the card. Pierce said he plans to keep the card at the grocery through June 8, when he will take the card to Barber Park for the Chamber's and the village's parks and recreation department's Kickoff Summer Concert Series from 4-8 p.m.

"Everything is so polarizing politically," VanHoutan said. "This is something you can do aside from politics and say, 'Thank God for teachers like you and we're so glad you grew up here, and you have these great values and you jumped in and did the right thing.'"

In a public post by Seaman's mother, Kristi, her son underwent surgery at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis last Friday. She added that her son had been "hit three times" — one in the abdomen, hip and forearm. He was released from the hospital Saturday.

On Monday, Seaman spoke for the first time at a news conference.

"I want to make it clear that my actions on that day, in my mind, were the only acceptable actions I could have done given the circumstances," Seaman said to The Associated Press. "I deeply care for my students and their well-being. That is why I did what I did that day."

"He's an amazing kid," said Mahomet-Seymour Superintendent Lindsey Hall. "We're all in a state of shock."

A student told The Associated Press that he saw Seaman tackle a fellow student who fired shots inside the classroom.

Seventh-grader Ethan Stonebraker said the class was taking a test when the student walked in late, pulled out a gun and started firing.

He said the teacher "immediately ran at him, swatted a gun out of his hand and tackled him to the ground," adding, "if it weren't for him, more of us would have been injured for sure."

Seaman played multiple sports at Mahomet-Seymour. In 2007, he was named News-Gazette Athlete of the Year.

A two-sport All-Area performer (football, basketball), Seaman went on to play college football at Southern Illinois University.

He also holds the M-S school shot put record (60 feet, 8 inches).

Former M-S boys' basketball coach Chad Benedict, a P.E. teacher at M-S who will serve as an assistant principal at the school starting July 1, said he was in a meeting on Friday morning when he received the news about Seaman.

"My first reaction was, 'He stopped it,'" Benedict said. "That was my assumption without even getting any of the details because that's just who he is."

Seaman was a senior during Benedict's first season in charge of the Bulldogs in 2006-07.

"He was injured his junior year, and then he got healthy," Benedict said. "The thing that I always appreciated about him was, number one, he was humble, and number two, he was selfless. He was a fantastic teammate. This was a kid that really had a lot of high-level interest athletically and could have played three sports in college if he wanted to."

Keith Pogue, Seaman's track and field coach at M-S and an assistant football coach when Seaman was with the Bulldogs, was devastated to hear the news on Friday morning.

"It's really shook me up," Pogue said. "It's affecting me more so than I imagined, to be honest."

Pogue said he exchanged messages with him once Seaman became the football coach at Noblesville West. Pogue said coaching was a natural fit for Seaman.

"He was so gifted at it and just a natural leader," Pogue said. "I was really pleased to hear he'd gone in that direction."

Pogue — who has been connected with M-S athletics in a coaching capacity for more than two decades and has served as the Bulldogs' head football coach since 2008 — said Seaman brought a different dimension to every team he was involved with at M-S.

"He was a leader for us and maybe, if he wasn't the best athlete to come through Mahomet in my time here, one of the best, by far," Pogue said. "He was just a fun kid to be around. He made working hard in practice fun and he brought kids up to his level. He didn't just enjoy the games, but he enjoyed everything involved in athletics. He was just that positive example all the time."

Current M-S boys' track and field coach Todd Lafond said he found out about Seaman during Friday's boys' track and field state meet at O'Brien Field in Charleston, a venue Seaman competed at in 2007 during his time with the Bulldogs. Seaman placed third in state in the shot put as a senior at M-S and ninth in the discus in the two-class system.

"Great kid," Lafond said. "Doesn't surprise me that he might've been trying to tackle the kid or something. We just keep praying for him. His family has two young kids (and) one was just born a few months ago, I think. I know his parents real well. His brother played soccer with my son. Our coaches know him and were around. Coach (Tom) Willard was his throws coach. As soon as I found out, I went over and told all of them so they were aware of it. It's a tough situation."

Seaman grew up rooting for nearby University of Illinois. His parents had season tickets before the kids' activities made it difficult to go to every game.

Illinois showed interest in Seaman during his junior year at Mahomet-Seymour. He made a couple of unofficial visits and was on campus for a Junior Day.

But a knee injury his junior year ended the Illinois recruitment.

At Southern Illinois, he played for Jerry Kill and Dale Lennon.

"Both have been awesome," Seaman told The News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen in 2010 after SIU played at Memorial Stadium. "I can't complain at all about how things have turned out."

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