No matter the result Saturday, it’s something Bob Ames and his pack of “pound puppies” will likely never forget.
From stepping out on the Tacoma Dome turf for the first time to stretch and staring up at one the largest wooden domed structures in the world, to having their names called as they line up on the 40-yard line before the pregame handshake, to that first play and even the postgame team photo, memories of the 2017 Class 1A football state championship game against Royal will be burned into each player’s and coach’s memory and likely relived for decades to come.
But for two Meridian Trojans and their family, Saturday’s game takes on a little added meaning. While the road to Tacoma certainly was not easy for anyone in Meridian’s all-black uniforms, brothers Bryson and Dylan Hickok faced a few additional challenges along the way.
“I can’t believe it,” said Bryson’s and Dylan’s mother, Shelly Hickok. “I honestly can’t believe they’ve come this far. ... The things they’ve gone through day in and day out – I’m really proud of them. For us, it means so much when you accomplish something big like this, because we know what they’ve been through.”
Bryson and Dylan both have been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease – a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects nearly 700,000 people in the United States and causes inflammation in the digestive or gastrointestinal tract, according to crohnsandcolitis.com.
“It can’t be passed down,” said Bryson, a senior. “You can’t cause or prevent it – it just happens, and it happened to us”
Despite some difficulties, the Hickok brothers have fought to play football for Meridian, and on Saturday, they will realize the dream of anybody who’s ever pulled on shoulder pads along Laurel Road – play for a state title.
When you play something since you were little, it’s hard to give it up just because you have a couple of downfalls.
Meridian junior Dylan Hickok
Doing anything else was never something they really thought about.
“We’ve played (football) ever since we were small,” said Dylan, a junior. “We’re an athletic family. We all play sports – my parents, their parents. When you play something since you were little, it’s hard to give it up just because you have a couple of downfalls.”
‘I kept getting lower and lower’
Bryson always was one of the bigger kids on his youth baseball team growing up, Ames said, but by the end of his eighth-grade year and the beginning of his freshman year in 2014, he stopped putting on weight.
“My seventh-grade year, I was 115 pounds,” Bryson said. “Then my eighth-grade year, I was the same, and I kept getting lower and lower. I was down to like 95 pounds going into my freshman year.”
The weight loss prompted Shelly and husband, Scott Hickok, to take Bryson to doctors and eventually to Seattle Children’s Hospital. It was there that tests revealed Bryson had Crohn’s and they began coming up with a plan to treat it.
“When you go down to Children’s, it’s really humbling,” Shelly said. “You think things are going bad, but then you go down there and the reality is what the boys are dealing with is completely treatable. You see families with kids that are fighting things that are way worse.”
That’s not to say that battling Crohn’s didn’t have its own share of difficulties for Bryson.
Though medication can control the disease, Bryson’s disease had progressed to the point he had to go on a liquid diet for 60 days, and midway through that eight-week regimen doctors found he was allergic to the medication.
“Halfway through, I couldn’t keep anything down – I would throw everything up,” Bryson said. “I got down to like 78 pounds my freshman year. ... When I got down to my lowest point, I couldn’t walk. I had to go into the hospital in a wheelchair.”
When I got down to my lowest point, I couldn’t walk. I had to go into the hospital in a wheelchair.
Meridian senior Bryson Hickok
Fortunately, Bryson was able to battle through, and the disease is now in remission. To keep it in remission, he injects himself with medication every two weeks. He’s put weight back on – he says he’s now up to 145 pounds.
While he still has an occasional “flare up,” the disease does not get in the way of most of his daily activities. But it did end up costing him one sport that he loves.
“I used to wrestle – my seventh-grade year, I never lost a match,” Bryson said. “My eighth-grade year, I lost my last match, and that’s when I was starting to lose weight. I noticed that I was getting weaker and I wasn’t doing as good in sports. Coming into high school, I just didn’t wrestle – I knew I couldn’t because of how small I was.”
Though he’s been able to continue playing baseball and football, he hasn’t returned to wrestling.
‘No rhyme or reason’
A little more than a year later in 2015, Dylan started showing symptoms similar to Bryson’s before he was diagnosed.
“I didn’t have it as bad as he did,” Dylan said. “I had a short little infection that’s uncommon to get, because it’s hard to contract. They found I had it because I have Crohn’s, which lowers your immune system. I remember it being miserable and wanting it to get better, and it never did, so we went down to Seattle Children’s, and they fixed it from there.”
While the Hickoks said it’s not common for siblings to develop Crohn’s, it is not unheard of, either, as many genetic and environmental factors are thought to be involved in contracting the disease, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
“Children’s told us there was no rhyme or reason – some families have six kids that all have it and some have 10 kids where only one or two have it,” Shelly said. “It happened to both our kids, and we’re dealing with it.”
While Dylan also has to inject himself every two weeks to keep the disease in remission, he did not lose as much weight as his older brother and did not have to go on a liquid diet. Meridian’s roster, which is infamous for listing players a bit low, reports him at 150 pounds – big enough to be a starting linebacker and a standout for the team.
But that’s not to say Dylan doesn’t have his own set of challenges.
Late last year Dylan was diagnosed with Narcolepsy Type 1 with cataplexy, a condition that makes it tough for him to stay asleep at night and awake during the day and causes sudden, uncontrollable muscle weakness or paralysis triggered by a strong emotion, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Having both Crohn’s and Narcolepsy is extremely rare, Shelly said.
Children’s told us there was no rhyme or reason ... It happened to both our kids, and we’re dealing with it.
Fortunately, the Narcolepsy symptoms also can be controlled, though Dylan said he has to set an alarm to wake him so he can take medication to sleep through the night.
“It’s kind of tough to do good in the classroom and stuff like that, because I’m tired,” Dylan said. “I’ve been late to school a few times because I took the medication too late or forgot it on accident, but we’re dealing with it.”
In fact, Dylan’s a 4.0 student, Shelly said, and Bryson has maintained a 3.5 GPA. Both are polite, thoughtful and mature young men.
“That’s the most important thing to us,” said Shelly, who added that the teachers, administration and coaches at Meridian have really helped the family. “They are great kids, and we’re proud of them. ... I never pictured having a pillbox for my kids, but they are living pretty normal lives.”
‘Fortunate to go this far’
For the Hickoks, “normal” means football, as Dylan and Bryson have played a big part in the Trojans reaching Saturday’s championship game.
Dylan’s role is a bit more visible to fans in the stands, as he is a standout at linebacker against both the run and the pass.
“He’s very cerebral and helps get players on his side of the field lined up properly and makes sure they all understand the calls,” Ames said. “He and Manny (Sabalza) really work well together. Dylan is a very good player for us, and he gives us so much. He’s relentless.”
So is Bryson, though much of his work comes behind the scenes on the practice field as a member of Meridian’s scout team.
It’s just heartwarming all the adversity they’ve found through to do what they want to do.
Meridian coach Bob Ames
“He is a just a tiger on scout teams,” Ames said. “He gets under the skin of some of the guys that are 1s, because he is out there giving everything that he’s got and pushing them to be better. It’s fun to watch him. He makes the scout team fun.”
Bryson, who has started five games this year, brings that same hustle as a member of all of Meridian’s special teams units, and Ames said he has made plenty of tackles on kickoff coverage.
“They’re both great kids,” Ames said. “It’s just heartwarming all the adversity they’ve fought through to do what they want to do. They’re always up – always got a hop in their get-along – and they’re a lot of fun to have out.”
Each said there’s a sense of pride in watching the other play – an understanding of what the other had to battle through just to be out there on the field.
We’re very fortunate to play. We know it could be a lot worse – there’s a lot worse stuff out there.
Meridian junior Dylan Hickok
“I think it definitely helps that we’re both going through this,” Dylan said. “It’s definitely better than going through it alone. We definitely know how it feels and what we’ve had to do to get here. We’re very fortunate to play. We know it could be a lot worse – there’s a lot worse stuff out there.”
Both expressed gratefulness to their parents and the doctors for helping them get to this point, which now has them on the cusp of the biggest football game they’ve ever played.
“It’s crazy,” Bryson said. “I can’t believe we’re able to do it. We’re really fortunate to go this far. We’re so happy to be out there helping the team. I can’t even imagine what it will be like. ... We’re really fortunate to come to this school and to get to play in the Tacoma Dome.”
Class 1A state championship
Meridian vs. Royal
Time: 1 p.m. Saturday
Site: Tacoma Dome
Online streaming: nfhsnetwork.com/washington/football
“Line the Laurel”
Organizers invite the community to join a rally to send the Meridian football team of to the state championship game in style. They encourage fans to bring homemade signs and noise makers to cheer on the Trojans coaches, players, cheerleaders as they leave for Tacoma. Don’t forget to wear black and gold.
When: Begin gathering around 8:10 a.m. (team scheduled to leave at 8:30 a.m.) Saturday
Site: Meridian High School