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Profile: Jason and Jalin; family by choice

by Zach Wagner - Copy Editor
Tue, Oct 8th 2019 03:45 pm
Brockport senior Jason Hellwig poses with his brother Jalin Cooper at one of Cooper's college football games. Cooper is currently a redshirt freshman at Toledo.
Brockport senior Jason Hellwig poses with his brother Jalin Cooper at one of Cooper's college football games. Cooper is currently a redshirt freshman at Toledo.

People often do not have a choice who they call family. In some circumstances, people become close, forming a connection equal to that of a familial bond. Jason Hellwig, a senior football and baseball player at The College at Brockport, found that connection, welcoming his adopted brother Jalin Cooper into his family just four years ago.

Jason met Cooper through the Medina School District. Jason and Cooper were fairly good acquaintances, as Cooper was on a modified football team coached by Eric Hellwig, Jason’s father. As the boys progressed through school, they did not have much contact until the summer leading up to Jason’s senior year.

“We were [at the school], he was visibly upset, he was with our athletic director at the time,” Jason said. “We asked what was wrong and we told him that he could stay with us.”

What was supposed to be one ordinary night turned into Jason and his family claiming legal guardianship of Cooper. With Cooper’s mother residing in Lockport, New York unable to properly support him and his father serving a 25-year prison sentence, the Hellwigs thought it was right to give Cooper the chance he deserves.

With the decision made, Cooper had to acclimate himself to a new household. According to Eric, Cooper needed time to get used to his new family, but eventually settled in like he had lived with them his entire life.

“It was very spur-of-the-moment,” Eric said. “When Jalin came here and decided he wanted to stay, we told him ‘if you’re here, you’re going to be a part of the family and we’re going to treat you that way.’ He had to get used to that. We’ve got a different sense of humor than he was used to and we would bust on him a little bit. It took about a year or so for him to learn to give some back. But that was more of an adjustment on his part than it was on our part.”

Despite only spending a year with Cooper in the house, Jason adjusted quickly to living with his new family member. Jason is five years younger than his biological brother, Adam Hellwig. Adam had moved to college by the time Jason was able to physically compete with him. With Cooper in the house, Jason had another brotherly connection closer in age.

“I thought it was pretty cool, I always wanted a younger brother, because me and my older brother, we were close, but when I started to get bigger and get good at sports, he moved out of the house,” Jason said. “He used to pick on me when I was little and it wasn’t very fun. When Jalin came, it was good competition.”

The transition for Cooper into the Hellwig household was smooth. He had the same expectations and was held to the same standards as though he was always a member of the family.

“The thing that made the transition the easiest is that my parents treated him no different than they treated my brother or me,” Jason said. “There were expectations for him in school, being in class, turning work in and things like that. Same thing at home, the things I wasn’t allowed to do growing up, he wasn’t allowed to do.”

Cooper is thankful for the opportunity he received from the Hellwig family. He feels like he owes them the world for all they have done for him over the years, going from a kid with no home to a Division I wide receiver at Toledo University.

“It meant everything to me, still to this day it means everything,” Cooper said. “I can never be more thankful, it’s really hard to explain how I feel because I feel like I owe them so much.”

With the help of the Hellwig family, Cooper was able to accomplish his goal of playing football at the Division I level. Moving in with his new family helped Cooper understand what it takes to attain such a lofty goal.

“It turned from a dream into reality,” Cooper said. “Always saying when you’re younger, ‘I want to make it here, I want to make it there. I really didn’t understand the process of making it there, I didn’t understand that I had to get good grades and go to the gym every day. Them taking me in helped make that process a reality.”

Cooper and Jason do not plan on losing contact anytime soon. The bond they have created is one that will last a lifetime and cannot be broken, they are brothers now. That is something that will never change. As they head into adulthood, the lessons they learned through this experience will be carried with them forever. Family is not something that is usually chosen, but for Cooper and Jason, this choice made all the difference in the world. 

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Taken by Vinny Croce:
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