OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Skutt Catholic junior Breena Whitaker plays the position known as center back for the Skyhawks' girls soccer team. But for the last few years, Breena's teammates have been the ones having her back. Breena's dad, Jim, coached several of the Skyhawks in club soccer.
"I loved it no matter what he said," said Breena. "If he did get on my nerves sometimes, I loved having him as my coach. It was just nice to have him on the sideline."
"He was just one of those people that always wanted better of you," said Skutt senior forward Cece Behrens. "And it wasn't just even on the soccer field but just in life in general. He always said just 'More, Cece! More!"
Following a middle school basketball practice a few years ago, Jim shared the news with Breena and her four siblings that he had been diagnosed with throat cancer.
"He just kept a great mindset," Breena said. "He said 'I'm going to fight this as long as I can and I'm going to beat it'. And he did beat it the first two times but unfortunately it did come back."
Following the diagnosis, Jim was asked to become a volunteer assistant coach on the Skutt Catholic varsity squad.
Then on March 7th of this year, less than two weeks before their first game of the season, the Skyhawks received devastating news: Jim Whitaker had passed away at the age of 53.
"It was really hard because all those reminders," said Breena. "I'm not saying I hated it but when everyone was coming up to me saying 'I'm sorry' it was pretty hard."
"My heart sank," said Behrens. "And I started thinking about my own family, my own dad and you just never know when something like that's going to happen."
The top-ranked Skyhawks honor Jim every time they play wearing warm up shirts with his name on the back, yellow ribbons, a yellow shoelace, and a patch on their shoulders with his initials as well as the letters F-O-E: family over everything.
"I think Jim would be extremely proud of us so far," said Behrens. "But I also think that Jim would say 'more' and 'be better'."
"A fantastic family and Jim was an even better man," said Skutt head coach John Carlson. "So he's really missed around here. The beauty of the Skutt Catholic soccer family and the Skutt Catholic family is that they all look out for each other. It's why they're a special group. One of the best groups I've been around in my 23 years here."
"It really meant the world because they really are my family," said Breena. "I love each and every one of them. I just keep him in the back of my mind all the time."