By: Andrea Nay for the Weekly Record Herald
Jason Fine was once a wide receiver known for dancing his way into the end zone. Few fans realized the three-sport athlete and member of Tippecanoe’s 1992 SRC Championship football team suffered from Tourette Syndrome. Now a principal, he uses his story to encourage others.
Fine, a 1993 Tippecanoe graduate, is upbeat by nature. His enthusiasm often hides the struggle he’s faced since elementary school when he learned his out of place jumping and yelling, induced by excitement, was Tourette. The incurable condition causes people to make tics—uncontrollable, repetitive movements or sounds. An exact cause is unknown, but there is strong evidence the syndrome is hereditary.
Fine credits his parents Steve and Vickie Fine of Tipp City with helping him make the best of the hand he was dealt.
“Mom and Dad taught me about adversity at an early age,” he says. “They encouraged me to only worry about things I could control and did a great job letting my teachers and coaches know of my struggles so they would treat me as if I was just like all the other students.”
Vickie Fine notes that two of her three sons have the disorder but the severity varies. Youngest son Adam was also diagnosed, but Jason's case is more severe. Eric, the oldest, has no symptoms.
“I told the boys they were lucky it was only Tourette,” says Vickie. “They wouldn't die from it. Learn to live with it, it wasn't going to kill them. It helped mold them into the men they've become. Kids made fun of them and they learned to overcome it.”
And friends? “They protected me from others who didn’t understand,” Jason remembers. “I’m grateful for that.”
Fine captained the 1992-1993 Tippecanoe High School basketball team.
On the sports stage, the environment could be harsh, especially as Fine stood alone at the foul line before capacity crowds. Tippecanoe’s coaches helped him overcome such challenges to win all-area honors in football and co-captain status in basketball.
“Charlie Burgbacher, Frank Goldsberry, and Bruce Cahill never let their players settle for mediocrity,” Fine recalls. “They also cared about us as people. That meant more to me than any victories we achieved together.”
Those examples of leadership inspired Fine to pursue a career in education.
“For as long as I can remember,” he says, “I wanted to be a teacher, coach, school counselor, or principal because of the positive role models I had.”
Fine’s first hurdle in achieving that goal was to major in psychology and play football at Ohio University. He walked on without a scholarship for five seasons, winning a letter his senior year, and says a family friend from home kept him focused.
“Jim Nay believed in me when others had doubt, including myself. I would never have graduated from O.U. had he not advocated for me.”
After completing his degree in 1998, Fine kept football a central focus for ten years. He was a graduate assistant at Urbana University, coached at Hilliard Heritage Middle School, and then coached varsity and JV football at Upper Arlington through 2008. He also found time to coach girls golf and boys basketball.
In the classroom, Fine completed a master’s degree, taught seventh grade language arts and science, and was named Upper Arlington’s Teacher of the Year in 2007.
When he moved to the principal’s office at Upper Arlington’s Barrington Elementary School in 2009, Fine hung up his coaching whistle.
“I’m blessed to get out of bed each morning looking forward to go to work,” Fine says with a smile. “And I don’t take that lightly. I’m sure my students will remember some of the content I taught them, but hope they never forget how I taught them.”
His life closely parallels Brad Cohen, depicted in Hallmark Hall of Fame’s “Front of the Class.”
“I get emotional every time I see the movie,” he adds. “The more exposure Tourette gets, the easier it is for people living with it.”
Fine admits he’s fortunate that his symptoms decreased as he got older, but he knows Tourette never completely disappears.
“My tics were more frequent in middle and high school, but more intense in college. Now, people are surprised to hear I have it because they rarely see symptoms. I’ve learned to live with it by disguising my tics, and I know that when they pick up I’m stressed, tired, and not taking care of my body.”
While at O.U., Fine met his future wife, Meredith Good. They have two daughters, seven year old Madeline and five year old Amelia.
”The toughest part for me right now is watching my oldest battle with the same symptoms I had,” says Fine. “I know what she will face, and my heart breaks for her. I appreciate any opportunity to educate more people on Tourette so that Madeline’s journey may be a bit more accepting.”
Photos courtesy of the Fine Family (top) and Tippecanoe High School (inset).