Westfield football scholarship created to honor late manager


Westfield High School football coach Jake Gilbert had great admiration for his late team manager, Jeannelle Rooney.

Rooney died Nov. 15, 2021 after battling cancer.

“She was just full of life and she was just a joy,” Gilbert said. “She was extremely tough. She was confident.”

So, when her parents, Jim and Lisa Rooney, wanted to create a scholarship, Gilbert turned it into an award.

“We wanted to award someone who brought a lot of juice and energy to our team, then also showed some toughness and grit,” Gilbert said. “Those were the traits that Jeannelle personified.”

Gilbert determined Jackson Wasserstrom, a senior wide receiver, would be a perfect fit for the inaugural Jeannelle Rooney Juice Award, receiving a $1,000 scholarship. The scholarship was presented by the Rooneys.

“Jackson exhibited those same characteristics for our football team,” Gilbert said.

Rooney, who was a team manager all four years and a 2021 WHS graduate, was diagnosed with pediatric melanoma in December 2017. She had monthly treatments for a year and went into remission. A cancer scan showed it returned in December 2019 and had spread to her liver. She started treatments in March 2020.

“She dealt with it off and on throughout the four years,” Gilbert said. “She would schedule her treatments early so she could have the strength back and be at the game on Friday night so she could film it for us. She was extremely tough. We miss her.”

Wasserstrom, who wants to play football in college but hasn’t made a decision, drew inspiration from her determination.

“If I was having tough day, it would always go through my mind that Jeanelle has been through a lot worse than what we are doing right now, like summer workouts,” Wasserstrom said. “You’ve just got to keep battling through, and I know that was what she would want from us. I feel like toward the end of the season we gave it all we had for her. It didn’t come out the way we wanted it to, but we definitely left it all out there for her.”

Rooney died only five days before the semistate game with Merrillville.

“When we got the news she passed away, it made us want to work for it more,” Wasserstrom said.

Westfield reached the Class 6A state championship game before losing to Center Grove for the second consecutive year.

Wasserstrom was honored being selected by Gilbert as the scholarship winner.

“It meant the world to me that all these years providing energy to the team, following orders and putting in the most work I possibly could (that) that work was not left unseen,” he said. “I really appreciate Coach Gilbert for pushing me through all the hard moments and helping me to keep battling. I felt like Jeannelle is looking down from above. Her whole family was there and it was special to me.”

The Rooneys plan to annually award the scholarship.

“We want to honor all she did for each of the boys,” Lisa Rooney said. “We wanted to honor that drive that she had. Even though she never made a play, she was just as important to the team, whether she was on the sidelines or playing. It overconsumed her. She cared for each one of the players throughout the years as if they were one of her brothers”.

Jim Rooney would sit in the end zone with his daughter when she was filming as a senior.

“When she was in her senior year, that kept her going with her treatments,” Jim said. “Even when she felt awful, she didn’t want to miss a game.”

After graduating, she went to most of the games in 2021 until the postseason. Then, she and her parents watched on television.

 “She loved her Rocks, that’s for sure,” Jim said.