Two seniors leaving Whiteland Community High School each faced rough patches at points in their lives
Dalton Hughes, 18, and Jakarrey “OJ” Oliver, 19, are football players, multi-sports athletes, students and friends. They both will walk across the stage on Saturday to get their high school diplomas.
Both young men went through different, but tough paths to get to graduation. Hughes grew up with an unstable home life for years, moving around with his mother before eventually moving in with his cousins. Oliver had to deal with big changes in his life in the middle of his senior year after his mother passed away last fall.
For most of his life growing up, Hughes’ single mother battled addiction and alcoholism. As a child, he moved around a lot with her. He lived in four different places by the time he was five or six years old, he said.
He left his mother to go live with his cousins, Duke and Kerri Lines around the time he was six. He lived with them until after third grade, and he decided to go back with his mom, who had been clean for a few months, he said.
Life was good for the first year back with her. But things went off the rails again after his mother got into a bad relationship and started using drugs again, he said.
By the time Hughes was in middle school, he and his sister dropped out and spent probably a year or so living in motels, hiding from his mother’s ex-boyfriend.
They moved to West Lafayette when Hughes was in eighth grade. There, his mother was not always around when he had to get up to go to school, so Hughes skipped a lot. He only went to school for the first 13 days, and didn’t go back for months, he said.
“At that point, I was like 12 years old, and I was like, ‘well, if my mom’s not here to put me on the bus, like why go to school?’” Hughes said.
He eventually was put on probation for truancy, and had to go to regular court hearings. He moved in with a friend during his probation, and started going back to school near the end of eighth grade, he said. One day, he missed a court date he didn’t know about, and he was arrested and placed in a boys’ home.
“There were guys there, who were like, legit criminals… and then there’s me, a truant. So it was definitely an eye-opening experience in there,” Hughes said.
Life started to turn around for him after he left that housing, and moved back with his cousins, Duke and Kerri. They lived in Noblesville at the time, and he restarted eighth grade there.
Duke Lines then got a new job as assistant principal at WCHS in 2019, so they moved there. Kerri Lines also got a job as a teacher at WCHS. That’s when Hughes started his high school career in Whiteland.
Hughes thrived in high school. He played football in the fall, and did wrestling and track in the spring semesters. He made new friends and mentors. He found support from his teammate and coaches.
For the first time, he had family and normalcy in his life in these last few years living with the Lines, who are his legal guardians. It flipped a switch in him, he said.
“Just having like that actual structure of a family finally, I think played a really big role,” Hughes said. “We’d go out and go to like the zoo, or just the little family things that showed me just what it is to just be, I guess, a ‘normal kid.’”
Hughes is graduating with an academic honors diploma this weekend. He plans to attend Indiana Wesleyan University to study business marketing and sports media. He also plans to continue playing football at the collegiate level.
“When I was 12 years old on probation for truancy, I would always tell myself that I was going make it out,” Hughes said. “My dream was to always be a collegiate-level athlete and to have all these academic accolades and all that. I definitely didn’t think I’d make it this far at all.”
His mom has been clean for four years now, and he sees her often. She comes to all of his football games and track meets. He’s proud of her, he said.
“She just came a long way. I can’t even express how proud I am of her, just from coming from literally the bottom,” Hughes said. “She finally said, ‘I’m gonna get on my feet, and I’m gonna get my family back together.’ That was her mission for the past four years, and she finally did it.”
His favorite memories in high school are linked to his time playing football. They spent time together in and out of practice. He called Oliver, “one of the funniest people you will ever meet.” And like the rest of his football teammates, he’ll never forget playing in the state championship at Lucas Oil last fall. They were the first Whiteland football team ever to make it there.
Hughes knows he had a rough go at life as a kid, but he doesn’t think he would go back and change any of it.
Jakarrey “OJ” Oliver
During the middle of his senior football season, Oliver’s mom, Latania, passed away from liver failure.
Oliver’s life as he knew it changed immediately. His mother was a single mom, taking care of him and his little brother. She supported him in everything, going to all of his games and meets. Oliver is a multi-sport athlete at Whiteland, playing football, wrestling and lacrosse.
“She was there for like every last football game that I ever had in life. And then all of a sudden, she couldn’t finish out the season with me,” Oliver said.
Oliver moved in with some friends to finish out the school year. His brother had to go back to Florida to live with their grandmother.
“She couldn’t call me anymore … like everything, just like didn’t feel the same,” Oliver said. “Because I used to be able to come home and just be like, what’s up? Like, how’s your day? And then I’d go in the room and then get ready for practice, or I’d go play the games and chill out with my little brother. Now, I can’t do it anymore.”
He found strong support in his teammates and coaches this year after his mom’s death. Head Coach Darrin Fisher made sure to check in on Oliver every day, he said.
Oliver moved to Indiana with his mom when he was in fifth grade. Some of his favorite memories with her were at family reunions, where they’d play games like corn hole together or play in the pool.
When Oliver took the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in the fall to play in his first state championship game, his mother wasn’t there to watch, but he knew she was watching above, he said. Playing in the state championship was the highlight of his time at Whiteland.
“Being the first ones to ever do it, that was cool,” Oliver said “I cried afterwards. It was my last game of high school football. But yeah, it was fun just running up the tunnel and just like seeing everybody. I was nervous.”
Next, Oliver is going to the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne to study nursing. He received a sports scholarship and will play football there too.
“I to walk across the stage and say that I graduated,” Oliver said. “I’ve got to live the big world now. I just feel like everything’s going to be better now. So I get to try to do my own thing.”