Embracing his daughters passions
"He was so supportive of all of our decisions that we made. I’ve been a dancer for 14 years, and he knew that dance was one of my greatest passions and he embraced that with me. And he even got on stage with me at my dance recital. And it just shows that he was that ‘Girl Dad.’”
-- Grace McClaskey
For years the same big smile would greet fans coming into a North Montgomery girls’ basketball game.
Selling cookies, cracking jokes, and bragging about his daughters — Jeff McClaskey never met a stranger.
It was a combination of his two favorite things: Family and Sports, and always in that order.
When McClaskey tragically passed away last April, it was clear there would never be a replacement for him. Not as a track and field timer, a sports fan, and certainly not as a Father.
But it also didn’t take long to realize that his legacy will forever be carried out through his daughters — Lauren, Caroline, and Grace. Through the sports they play and the families of their own they will one day form.
Grace, a senior on the North Montgomery basketball team, knew her final season would be a special one. Through the COVID-19 issues, the injuries, and all the uncertainty — she has played with one single purpose.
“At the beginning of each year Nuppnau (North Montgomery girls’ basketball coach) gives us a paper to write down our goals and what we want to accomplish and in year’s past it’s like win county, have a winning record,” Grace said. “And this year it was just to play for my Dad.”
And it’s a legacy worth carrying out. McClaskey, a 2011 Montgomery County Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, graduated from Southmont in 1987 before playing at Marian College.
“Basketball has just always been a passion that our whole family has shared and missing those couple of games has just put into perspective just how important it is, not to just everyone related to sports, but just in general,” Grace said about this season and having to miss games due to COVID-19. “I remember when he was inducted into the Montgomery County Hall of Fame. And I was like ‘wow that is so cool.’ And just coming from a community and a state that basketball, Indiana is the state for that. Just being able to play in such a crazy year, it’s been frustrating, but also have been blessed to have a season.”
Basketball was McClaskey’s first love, but he quickly embraced every sport he encountered. First, when he married his wife, Kerrie (Hess) — joining Montgomery County’s track and field family, and second when his daughters got involved with a variety of activities.
“We feel Jeff and Kerrie enjoyed what you do. Whatever it is in any sport. He (Jeff) instilled the hard work ethics and the good sportsmanship,” Jeff’s parents, Dave and Cheryl McClaskey said.
“Even though he might not know that much about it, if they were doing it, he was too,” Dave continued. “He embraced it. Whatever they wanted to do, and if they didn’t want to do something, I don’t think he never forced them to do anything they didn’t really want to do.”
For Lauren, the oldest, it was soccer and basketball, for Caroline it was soccer, basketball, and track, and now Grace, the youngest, gravitated toward basketball and track and dance. And her Dad fell in love with that too.
“He was so supportive of all of our decisions that we made,” Grace said. “I’ve been a dancer for 14 years, and he knew that dance was one of my greatest passions and he embraced that with me. And he even got on stage with me at my dance recital. And it just shows that he was that ‘Girl Dad.’”
McClaskey coached his daughters every chance he had, further deepening that special bond they shared through sports.
“Our father-daughter relationship was special in many ways but having your dad as a coach when you are so young makes it even better,” Lauren said. He taught Caroline, Grace, and I more than just the game of basketball — hard work, dedication, being a good teammate are to name just a few. What we learned from him because of sports has helped shape us into who we are today, and for that, we are forever blessed. He was the best ‘Girl Dad’ anyone could ask for.”
And McClaskey’s passion for sports and family ran much deeper than just through his own daughters. This year he has a pair of nephews, Cale and Hayden Hess, playing for Southmont, nephew Seth McClaskey at Western Boone, and nephew Isaac Vencel at Bloomington North — all basketball careers he impacted, offering advice and rarely missing a game.
“We are pretty proud of him (Cale),” Julie Hess, McClaskey’s sister-in-law, said about her son’s senior season at Southmont. “And it’s been a really rough year without his uncle Jeff in the stands. Hearing kind words from people that don’t really know Cale help gives him confidence that he would’ve been getting from Jeff. It’s kind of like he’s watching over him every way he can.”
During the unpredictable season of COVID-19, attendance has been limited at games. Meaning at times, Grace’s grandparents, both Dave and Cheryl, and Ron and Francie Hess, have had to miss games. In a way, the chaos has helped Grace cope with the loss of her Dad.
“Just like with COVID, it’s been frustrating and chaotic,” she said. “I think COVID kind of helped my coping process, because I knew if it was just a regular year it would have been way harder than what it was. It’s been hard, but this year I’ve just wanted to play for him. It’s been so crazy, but I know he is proud of me.”
After McClaskey’s death, his daughers began to hear stories about their Dad they had never heard before — cementing his love for them and his passion for sports.
“I think it was more evident after his passing,” Grace said. “Just hearing the stories he told and now talking to people it’s ‘your Dad always talked about this or about you girls,’ so it just really shows that he had a love for sports like none other, but his family always came first.”
On the court, Grace and the Chargers open sectional play for the 2020-21 season on Friday at Tri-West. It hasn’t been the season once anticipated by Grace or her teammates, but she knows she’s done everything the right way thanks to her Dad.
“I think an important part of my dad and I’s relationship was that he emphasized that there is so much more to being a good basketball player than the points that players put up on the scoreboard, or the stats that go down in the book. Basketball is a hard team sport to play, and being a great teammate means to be someone who other players wished to play with,” she said. “If you look at my stats, I don’t look like the greatest player on the court, but I strive to be that teammate that others want to have on their team. My dad was the person who taught me how to be that teammate, and has shaped me into the player that I am today.”
Grace will graduate from high school in the spring, Caroline is a junior at IU, and Lauren is a nurse at Riley Children’s Hospital. There have been plenty of tough moments in the last few months for the three of them, and there will be plenty more in years to come.
“I know Caroline would say when something wasn’t going right, she would say ‘I’d call Dad. And he would always get me through it,’” Dave McClaskey said about his granddaughter. “And she said, ‘I can’t do that now.’”
Their Dad’s death is a void left behind that they will never be able to replace, but for Lauren, Caroline, and Grace McClaskey, the impact he made on their lives will forever be there.
“My dad influenced all three of us throughout our time playing sports,” Caroline said. “He was always there supporting us and pushing us to reach our full potential. He is a role model for us and we will always cherish all the memories with him talking about sports and life.”
And that is a piece of their Dad they will always have.