Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
“A coach once told me that before you compete, you need to have a why … a why as to ‘why’ you play, something to play for. Raegan is my why.”
CHILLICOTHE — Before every game, no matter the sport, Isaac Little has a ritual.
Many players have habits or routines they go through, but for Isaac, it’s a bit different … a bit more meaningful, you could say.
While his teammates stretch, while fans hurriedly find their seats and while coaches look over their game plans one last time, Isaac closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and visualizes.
It’s not a thought that can be spoken into existence, it’s not a wish for luck or health, and it’s not anything that will ever become a reality. But it’s something that stands near and dear to Isaac’s heart, and it’s the reason why he plays the way he does.
On April 10, 2014, Isaac’s life — and many others around him — changed forever. He was in sixth grade at that time, but he remembers that fateful night like it was yesterday.
“It was a Thursday evening. I had just gotten out of basketball practice and gotten home. I was standing at my kitchen table and my mom picked up her phone and immediately gasped and dropped to the floor,” Isaac recalled.
The text message that Erin Little had just received posed a grim question.
“We were all kind of clueless to what was going on and she couldn’t really talk. So I took the phone and she had received a text message that said, ‘Have you heard anything about Raegan Bloss dying in a car accident?’ I wasn’t really sure what to think,” Isaac said. “As a sixth grader at the time, in my mind, I was convinced it wasn’t real. That’s what I kept telling myself over and over again. ‘It’s not real. There is absolutely no way that it’s real.’”
Unfortunately, Isaac’s hopes were fallacious.
That evening, Raegan was riding in the backseat of her family’s Jeep Wrangler. When the vehicle crossed Rt. 32 in Pike County, it was struck by a pickup truck in oncoming traffic.
The crash took Raegan’s life at 12 years old.
“About an hour later, my mom took me to my aunt’s while they tried to get everything figured out,” Isaac recalled. “They walked back in and had to tell me that it was true. She was in a car accident with her mom, younger brother and my younger cousin, Emylee Little. I will never forget the feeling I had when I heard those words come out of my mom’s mouth. Forever after it happened, I still just kept telling myself that it wasn’t real. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Isaac and Raegan were inseparable. They were classmates, they were friends and they shared a love for basketball. In fact, on Raegan’s headstone at Mound Cemetery in Piketon, she’s pictured, smiling, with a basketball and the No. 2 offset beneath her.
That smile is what Isaac remembers, and misses, the most about Raegan.
“Raegan was one of the most lovable, energetic and funniest people I’ve ever met,” Isaac said. “Everybody that knew Raegan loved her. Very rarely did you ever see her without a smile on her face. She truly seemed to enjoy life and that is what I remember the most about her. Having a happy character with the most contagious smile is something I’ll always remember her for.”
Raegan’s one-of-a-kind smile is now a treasure that resides in the memories of those that knew her best. Isaac is doing his best to make sure those scenes from his life never fade away.
No matter the sport, Isaac always tries to include a piece of Raegan into his uniform. On the basketball court, he’s had her name on a piece of tape inside his ankle braces. On the football field, he’s worn custom cleats with the day that Raegan passed away inscribed on them, as well as custom-ordered socks. And, on the track, he wears bracelets that support the Bloss family.
“Whenever I’ve played, I’ve always had her in my heart,” Isaac said. “I think about her all the time. A coach once told me that before you compete, you need to have a why … a why as to ‘why’ you play, something to play for. Raegan is my why. I play for her because she was never given the opportunity to play the game she loved so much. Her time here was cut short and I’m sure if she were given the choice, she would do anything to step foot on a basketball court again. Sadly, she can’t. So I play for her and that goes through my head every time I step onto the floor or field.”
He’s also thinking about his best friend before that moment comes.
If you follow him on social media, he often posts a picture signalling gameday and includes the hashtag #DoItForRaegan in the caption.
“The hashtag came about immediately after the accident,” Isaac said. “I had an AAU tournament that weekend and, to this day, playing in that tournament was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. But I did because I felt like she would’ve wanted me to. So from that day, any post I’ve made about a game, or any post in general, I always put #DoItForRaegan. It’s almost like a brand mark if you think about it. When everybody sees one of my posts, they know who I’m playing for and that’s the real meaning of it all.”
Isaac, in his own right, has enjoyed an outstanding career to this point.
He currently leads Unioto’s basketball team in scoring and assists with per-game averages of 16.2 and 4.0, and he led the Shermans to a 6-4 record on the gridiron this past fall while throwing for 775 yards and rushing for an additional 582.
But it’s not just the statistics that set Isaac apart from other athletes.
If you’ve seen him play, you’ve seen that look in his eyes. It’s a look of determination, it’s a look you can’t teach and and it’s a look that says, ‘Give me the ball. I’ll take care of the rest.’”
But all of that is for Raegan. She’s not here to participate, so Isaac carries the torch for them both.
“I’ve never really opened up and talked about her. When everything happened, I never even talked to my family or anybody about it,” Isaac said. “I didn’t even say her name for years, just for the fact that I felt like nothing I could say about her would be good enough, or would be able to do justice to how good of a person she was.
“At times, I just wish she were here and that her life wasn’t cut so short,” Isaac said. “Seeing pictures of other people’s families and me being with my family, it just really hits hard knowing that her family’s holidays will never be the same. But if you would ever talk to [the Bloss] family, you would know that they don’t use it for pity or for people to feel bad for them. Everything they do is for her.”
Not too long ago, Piketon High School held a ceremony for Raegan. Some of her family and members of the Redstreaks’ girls basketball team — one that Raegan would certainly be contributing to if she were here today — read letters aloud while Raegan was given her own banner.
Isaac was in attendance.
“I told myself the whole time that I was going to hold it together but I just wasn’t able to. Luckily, I was able to talk to her father, Nate Bloss, and he makes things seem as good as possible in times like those,” Isaac said. “He just told me how proud he was of me and to never let anyone bring me down because everything I’ve done for their family has been appreciated. I just can’t put into words how thankful I am for the Bloss family as a whole.”
That feeling is reciprocated. As Isaac continues to play in honor of his childhood friend, Raegan’s memory, and heart, is right there with him.
It has, is, and will always be that way.
“If she were here with me today, I would give her the biggest, longest hug imaginable. Then I would tell her how much the short time we spent together has impacted my life. I would let her know that the person and friend she was to me wasn’t taken for granted or looked over, even for a second,” Isaac said. “I would tell her that everything I do is for her because, as great of a person as she was, everybody should know about her. I would tell her that I loved her and that it’s been so hard without her here. I hope I’m making her as proud as possible as she’s looking down on me.”