The Jinx Tucker is a team award, but sometimes an individual can embody the spirit of all the players around him.
Crawford quarterback Tanner Merenda led his team as a versatile passer and runner. As a senior team captain, he was the vocal catalyst before, during and after practices and games.
During two seasons as Crawford’s starting quarterback, the undersized Merenda played with outsized confidence. His coaches described him as a fierce competitor.
However, what fans couldn’t tell just by watching him was that he carried a tremendous burden.
Tanner and his brothers Austin, a sophomore on the Pirates varsity, and Carson, a Crawford freshman, lost both of their parents in the last two years. Their father Jerome Merenda died of a stroke in early March of 2019. Their mother Karan Merenda was beset by breast and uterine cancer last spring and passed away in early May.
“Seeing (Karan Merenda) go faster than she should have really got me,” Tanner said. “I’m definitely not through it. I don’t think anyone will ever be through it when you’ve gone through losing both parents like that. They were my adoptive parents. I was actually taken away from my biological parents. So losing two sets of parents is worse than losing one set.”
And yet Merenda can see the positives that have helped him and his brother carry on throughout the last year.
Karan Merenda’s sister and her husband, Jamie and James Wolfe, took the boys into their home. The Wolfes, who have five grown kids and three grandchildren, have created an environment that Tanner described as “blended and blessed.”
“Taking three teenage boys in is a lot. One that’s fixing to graduate and two more that are in high school still,” Tanner said. “I didn’t think we’d have anyone else to go to, but them stepping up and the community stepping up and helping us and doing everything they can has been amazing.”
As the starting quarterback in a small town, Merenda had many eyes on him as he went through a family tragedy. His response helped form a bond among the Pirates that goes beyond football.
“Everybody respects that guy. Not just the kids, but the coaches,” Crawford coach Greg Jacobs said. “I was around his family. We were very close to them. To see what he had to experience and how he had to deal with it — he’s got two younger brothers that he’s had to take under his wing — he’s a young man that’s well ahead of his years.”
Merenda threw 19 touchdown passes and rushed for nine more, leading the way for the Crawford offense as the Pirates advanced to the Class 2A Division I state semifinals. Along the way, he earned District 7-2A D-I MVP honors.
Leading the Pirates was much more than a game for Crawford’s senior QB.