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James Volz plays both ways for the Mead Panthers despite a major hurdle called systemic onset juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. (Jesse Tinsley)

Lee: Ailment doesn’t keep Volz away from action

W hen Mike Volz watches his son play football or wrestle, he can’t help but marvel at the hurdles he’s overcome in life and the fine young man he’s become.

Mead senior James Volz was diagnosed with systemic onset juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when he was nine months old. He lived in constant pain through the second grade.

“There were times when he was younger when he couldn’t walk and times he couldn’t crawl around,” Mike Volz said.

James Volz’s form of arthritis manifested itself through the autoimmune system, attacking his joints. It usually moves around the body, not isolating in any specific joints.

While he has lost track of the number of cortisone shots he’s had in various joints, Volz’s arthritis hits largely in his ankles. It got so bad a few years ago that a doctor at the Seattle Children’s Hospital told him that smaller joints in an ankle had begun to fuse because of erosion of the joint padding, leaving bone-on-bone contact.

The doctor asked what activities occupied Volz’s time. The doctor was amazed when he was told about football and wrestling.

He’s been relatively pain free since the last flare-up at the end of his sophomore year. If a flare-up occurs, medication can stop it immediately, he said.

“I haven’t let arthritis stop me and I won’t let it stop me,” Volz said. “No excuses. It’s not necessarily going to be easy at times, but I’ll get through it.”

His coaches are amazed by what he’s overcome.

“Even though you know he’s in pain at times, he’s never once complained,” Mead football coach Sean Carty said. “He has all the excuses in the world. He could take plays off, conditioning off and I would understand. But his work ethic doesn’t change. The last thing he wants is for you to feel bad about it.”

Volz is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds. He started at center last year and starts at left guard this year after the Panthers overhauled their offense. He also starts at nose tackle but is rotated out so he’s as fresh as possible for offense.

Because of the health concerns, he didn’t try wrestling until his freshman year. He qualified for state for the first time last year, coming within a win of placing.

“What I love about him most is he’s a great worker,” Panthers wrestling coach Phil McLean said. “He’s made himself into an athlete. For a kid like that to come as far as he has is amazing. He’s a tough kid. He refuses to quit.”

Volz, who will compete in the new 220-pound class this year, has grown to love wrestling. This summer, he was one of 16 named an all-star out of 350 who participated in the Washington Intensive wrestling camp at Lakeside in Nine Mile Falls.

McLean expects Volz to challenge for a district championship and place at state.

“I want to be in the top three,” Volz said.

In the spring, Volz throws the shot put in track.

“I do track because I’m committed to being a three-sport athlete,” he said.

“The Mead school record is safe,” his dad said, laughing.

Where James Volz excels the best, though, is in the classroom. He carries a 4.0 grade-point average and scored 2,130 on the SAT college-entrance test in June. That score puts him in the running for any college in the U.S.

He plans to take the test again, because he wants to improve it despite the fact that based on last year’s table he would rank in the top 1 percent nationally.

His perfection in the classroom will be tested this year. He’s taking an ambitious group of classes that is mostly advanced placement for college. His schedule includes AP calculus, AP literature, AP government, physics, organic chemistry and German 3. He will trade out organic chemistry for biochemistry next semester.

Volz wants to play football in college. But his college destination will be picked primarily based on the best academic fit.

“Whatever he puts his mind to he will be a success at,” Carty said.

Mike Volz’s eyes started to moisten when he reflected on what his son has overcome.

“If you saw him when he was in second grade,” he said, “there’s know way in hell you would think he’d be playing football and wrestling in high school.”