This year, when the Trojans take the field or the court, a big piece of their team and community will be missing.
Jason Mueller, or “Big guy” as his wife Hannah called him, passed away surrounded by his family on July 22, 2021.
Jason and Hannah are both Center Grove graduates. In high school, Jason played football and baseball and Hannah was a cheerleader. Being two years apart, she never really knew him personally but she knew his name and his brother.
Fast forward several years, Jason became a teacher, Hannah’s daughter’s teacher at West Grove Middle School to be specific.
She said her daughter and Jason hit it off.
“He was a great educator and she was kind of a teacher’s pet and did everything prim and proper and perfect and he loved organization so they got along quite well,” Hannah said.
After both of them went through separate divorces, Hannah started coaching the high school dance team. On Friday nights, the dance team would perform during halftime and that is how Hannah met Jason.
From there, their friendship started to grow. She said he was an outgoing guy and had the brightest smile.
“He was six-foot-three and 216. He was just a big man,” Hannah said jokingly. “But his personality was even bigger.”
She said when they met up again, they had a lot in common. They both lived in Center Grove their whole lives and always attended athletic events and from there, their relationship grew.
The first date Hannah and Jason went on was to The Melting Pot, which is no longer in Greenwood. It was the first night Hannah had without her kids at home and he asked to take her out to dinner.
“Here I wasn’t thinking it was a date, I didn’t have that on my mind,” Hannah said.
Hannah laughed and said she was almost embarrassed because they both knew so many people, she didn’t want to run into anybody they knew.
“He was just so easy to talk to and we just had so much in common,” she said.
As many step-parents do, Jason had to get the “approval” of the kids as well.
“There was never any of that awkwardness with us because my kids trusted him,” Hannah said.
After a few years, their relationship began to become more serious and her kids thought it was weird she was dating their teacher. A special trip to Starbucks changed their minds.
“He took my kids out to Starbucks to ask them if it was okay if he could marry me and he wanted their approval,” she said.
That trip to Starbucks was when Hannah said it clicked for her daughter Vanessa that “this man” loved them and their mom.
The Muellers had a destination wedding with their friends and family down in Florida.
Hannah said Jason was involved with his community just as much as he was involved with his family.
“He made everybody feel so special,” Hannah said.
She said Jason was a mirror image of his parents, John and Patricia, who both gave a lot to the Center Grove community.
She said she never realized, through his announcing, the magnitude of who he was as an announcer. He would meet with players and coaches before games to make sure he knew how to say everybody’s name and to learn little things about them. He was like that with his family members too.
Hannah and Jason thrived on Friday nights.
They would listen to music to get them ready on Fridays on their way to school. Then they would share a kiss before Jason made his way to the press box and she would go prepare the dance team.
Hannah described the way Jason was on Friday nights to a maestro in the way he “conducted” the games. He knew how to blend the normal PA things with sponsorships, IHSAA statements and everything else that went into a football game production, and the ability to mix his personality in between it all.
Hannah said he was very open with his kids about his struggles and that he always said he was living and getting out of bed each day for his family.
“He lived longer, I think, because of his children,” Hannah said.
Brian Proctor, principal of Walnut Grove elementary school where Jason taught, met him a few years prior to Walnut Grove opening.
“When we opened up the building, Jason was instrumental in bringing his energy,” Proctor said.
Proctor said although he was “The Voice of the Trojans,” Jason was more than that. He was a family man who carried a lot of pride. Proctor said Jason was like himself, and that it was hard to accept words of affirmation.
“When people started outpouring for him, he didn’t want it, he didn’t know how to accept it or how to appreciate it,” Proctor said. “You know? Because everything was out of his control at the time.”
Last year, through the COVID-19 pandemic, Proctor spoke with Jason many times about the meaning of life and his frustrations and was there for him personally through his battle.
“I’m going to pray for you and let you know that you’re not walking this journey alone… ever,” he said.
In the final year of his life, Proctor said whenever he would text in a group chat he would try to respond to Jason because he knew he only had enough energy for a few minutes of his time.
Proctor said Jason’s goal was to start school this fall. He said he would check in with him and ask how long he was staying awake for and kept checking in on him and his progress and strength.
He talked with Jason and broke down how many additional minutes he would need to stay awake and alert than the previous day.
“Our eyes were set on that goal that some of us would say, “How’s that possible?” but we focused on the goal and not how life and the body was slowly becoming more fragile.” Proctor said.
Proctor referred to Jason’s battle with cancer as David and Goliath.
“He may not physically defeat Goliath but spiritually and mentally, he was winning,” Proctor said.
Throughout his treatment, he never saw all the frustrations. Jason always showed his strength to those around him.
“I think one of the most incredible pieces of this whole thing with Jason is he wouldn’t want to be considered a celebrity or an icon at Center Grove, that was never his goal,” Proctor said.
Proctor said the bigger message about Jason was taking some of the things Jason did and applying it to other people who are going through struggles in their lives. He said Jason would want everyone to make sure they invest in their community.
“That’s what we want of every person in our community,” Proctor said.
At the private funeral ceremony for family and friends, Proctor gave an eulogy which he said was one of the hardest things he has had to do.
“Whenever anyone passes away, we hope their legacy continues on but at the end of the day, it’s the family,” Proctor said. “It’s the family that will be the one that carries on… and works hard to keep his legacy strong within their family.”
Scott Knapp, Center Grove athletic director, said Jason connected with the kids immediately, especially the student athletes. When those kids grew up through middle school and high school he stayed connected with them.
“He’s irreplaceable,” Knapp said. “He was a special, special talent.”
Prior to becoming the athletic director, Knapp worked as the assistant athletic director, and part of that role was to create the script for the PA announcer. He built that relationship through working on the script throughout the week.
“He knew those kids and families which made it special and unique,” Knapp said. “It’s not just a guy up there announcing names. He knew who they were.”
Knapp is neighbors with the Mueller family and in addition to their professional relationship, they also had a friendship.
“Being a neighbor, he would do anything for you, no questions asked,” Knapp said. “He was just a great guy and a great human being.”
In addition to Proctor, Knapp said he’ll remember most about Jason that even though he was in pain and struggling with his health, he never tried to show it.
“He’s in a better place and we’ll see him again soon,” Knapp said.
After his passing, his wife said she received stories from a lot of people from students, coworkers and various members of the community, about how Jason helped them and made an impact in their lives.
From former students of his who were impacted by him and are now in college and graduated because of something he did for them when they were younger.
“He made a way to reach out to the “newbies” at school and go check on them,” Hannah said.
Hannah said he was always present and he was like Santa Clause because he was always there for everybody. He’s been planting seeds for 20 years, as a teacher and now Hannah gets to watch those seeds grow.
In the final two weeks of his life, Hannah kept telling Jason “It’s okay if you want to go but just know that you, somehow, are still inspiring people.”
A celebration of life will be held at Ray Skillman Stadium at Center Grove High School at a to-be-announced date and time.