Jack Roche was a complete sports fan.
He loved any and all sports, from the White Sox, Bears and Blackhawks, to his college, the University of Kansas, to his high school alma mater, Marist.
He even closely followed youth sports, keeping tabs on his younger siblings.
According to his dad, John Roche, sports had an irresistible attraction on his oldest son.
Jack Roche, 21, died on July 12 after being struck by a vehicle as he was crossing Pulaski Road at 111th Street. His family and friends are still mourning the death of a true sports fan.
“Jack was always playing sports. He wasn’t the biggest kid, but he loved sports,” John Roche said. “Then, he started coaching all the sports. He wanted to be part of the team. Jack found his niche at Marist and loved being a part of those teams.”
Roche, an Oak Lawn resident and St. Catherine of Alexandria Elementary School graduate, was heading into his senior year at Kansas this fall.
He was a 2017 Marist grad, and during his time with the RedHawks, Roche became a vital member of the football, basketball and baseball teams as a team manager. He was also a football equipment manager at Kansas with the Jayhawks.
Roche was a manager at Marist for the varsity football team all four years, working closely with Coach Pat Dunne and his staff. Dunne coached at Marist from 2008-2017.
“Words don’t justify what an unbelievable person Jack was,” Dunne said. “Plain and simple, he was one of the nicest people I know. He was selfless; he was genuine and just the ultimate teammate. We called him Coach Roche. The lives he impacted in 21 years is just incredible.”
The RedHawks finished as the Class 8A state runner-up in 2015, Roche’s junior year.
While the players on the field dominated the headlines, Roche and the other team managers went about their business, doing the dirty work to assist the team.
Roche helped film games from the press box and the end zones.
He helped the players in warm-ups, shagging balls all over the field.
He was often one of the first people on the field and last to leave.
Then, postgame, the work continued as Roche uploaded the game film, selecting plays and series that coaches could use for Saturday-morning run-throughs and throughout the week.
Roche worked closely with Ray Holmes, a close friend, 2016 Marist grad and fellow manager, in handling all the managerial tasks.
“Everyone loved Jack. There are so many good memories,” Holmes said. “He was always smiling no matter what he was doing. He had the most contagious laugh and smile, and he cared so much about helping others. If there was an opportunity to help and reach out, he’d do it.”
Holmes said he has so many memories to cherish about his friend, especially the Friday night bus trips back to Marist after a road game.
While coaches and players headed home, work was just starting for Roche and the managers as they handled game-film duties late into the night.
“Those were the best moments. There’s nothing better, those rides home and then a long night with the film. It doesn’t sound fun, but it was,” Holmes said. “We were always laughing and loving it, so many good memories.”
That devotion to the team and the players did
not go unnoticed.
Micah Awodiran was a standout football player and a 2017 Marist grad.
He’s gone on to a standout career playing football at Yale.
“The coaches were still VHS guys, but Jack had all the angles [shooting the game],” Awodiran said with a laugh. “Our scholarship offers, the Hudl videos, we don’t have that without Jack. He and Ray were the Dream Team. Every highlight tape that he put together, it was huge.”
Of course, Roche wasn’t all business.
Awodiran remembered an especially inspiring pregame speech that Roche delivered during the state playoffs. Holmes fondly recalled Roche celebrating and dancing postgame with teammates in the locker room.
Marist Coach Ron Dawczak said the entire program knew what Roche brought to the team.
“Jack absolutely loved sports and being involved with the football program,” Dawczak said. “Every player knew the work he put in. He was truly a member of the team. Jack always went above and beyond. He’d be carrying these big equipment bags, but no matter what he was doing, he was always smiling.”
Roche took his love of sports to Kansas as well where he roomed with fellow ’17 grad Luke Bullington and Br. Rice grad Ryan Winkle. Roche was a football manager the past three seasons for the Jayhawks.
In the days after Roche’s death, Kansas Coach Les Miles took to Twitter to honor the manager.
“Jack was a tremendous, hard-working young man who embodied what our program is all about,” Miles said. “We will remember Jack and he will forever be a part of our family.”
For Bullington, his friendship with Jack went back to their first few years at Marist.
On campus, Roche was always showing his Chicago sports pride.
“Even at school, Jack kept in touch with Marist sports, including following his brother, Patrick, and his sister, Lilly,” Bullington said. “Blackhawks games, he’d be watching wearing his Kirby Dach jersey. On Sundays, he was watching the Bears in his Trubisky jersey. If anybody said anything, he’d fire back. He wore that jersey with pride.”
Bullington said Roche had a deep pride in his roots, his family, his friends, his high school and his sports teams.
In their senior year at Marist, the friends were pleased to discover they would both be going to Kansas.
“I visited Kansas a month or two before he did. I absolutely loved it,” Bullington said. “He went in February with his dad, went to a basketball game, talked to the football coaches. He texted me on the way home ‘Bad news for you … never mind, I’m going to Kansas, too!’”
Roche is survived by his parents, John and Kim; his siblings, Patrick and Lilly; his grandparents, James and Joan Butler and Nancy Roche; and his aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
A funeral mass was held July 18 at Marist.
“Jack helped me coach his brother’s travel baseball team, the Oak Lawn Lightning,” John Roche said. “He was 12 at the time. He was taping games, putting them on discs and giving them to families. He always wanted to help out, and that led into what he did in high school and Kansas. It was just him.”