MOUNT VERNON — Jamie Parker moved to the Mount Vernon school district in second grade.
This is a tricky age for a move. School is very new when you’re in second grade. It probably feels really big and, if you look at it from kid level, it has to be pretty scary.
Jamie Parker cried. Understandably. That didn’t last long, though.
“He was crying,” Tristan Wirfs said. “Mom said, ‘Go ask him if he wants to play at recess.’ ‘All right.’ So, I did and he said ‘Yeah,’ and we’ve been best friends ever since. I think from second grade up until eighth grade, I’d spend every weekend there. I’d stay at his house from, if I didn’t have anything going on, Friday until Sunday night.”
“Classic story, classic story,” Parker said. “Oh, yeah, I’ll never forget it.”
After that meeting in the classroom, Wirfs and Parker played kickball at recess, Parker said.
“I had the best time of my life and I owe a lot of that to Tristan,” Parker said. “As a kid, he was very mature. He came up and talked to me. I mean, not many kids would do that, you know, I sure as hell wouldn’t do that. Talk to the new kid, right? You know, make him feel at home.
“We went and played kickball at recess and the rest is history.”
Parker lives in Martelle. It’s a bump in Highway 1 between Mount Vernon and Anamosa. If you live in Martelle, good odds you can see a cornfield from at least one window in your house.
First, the lure was snacks. Wirfs was going through painful growth spurts and the body craved ... chips.
Jamie’s mom, Kelli, would grocery shop on Saturdays, when Tristan would be around. Coincidence. Probably.
“They always had junk food out there,” Wirfs said. “Chips, big jugs of Kool-Aid or the Hawaiian Punch brand, always.”
“She had three boys,” Tristan’s mom, Sarah, said. “I didn’t have the money to buy all the fun stuff.”
“Jamie has two older brothers, so they always had tons of chips,” Tristan said.
“Oh my God, they had everything,” Sarah said.
“Lays, Doritos, everything,” Tristan said. “We’d always tear it up. She’d always cook us food.”
“Fried bologna,” Sarah said.
“Fried bologna,” Tristan said. “She’d always make us fried bologna. Terrible food for you.”
Would Iowa strength and conditioning coordinator Chris Doyle not approve?
“Probably not, probably not the stuff we ate,” Tristan said. “We’d make peanut butter toast and dip it in our Cocoa Pebbles cereal.”
Parker: “Tristan, he’d clean out the cabinets pretty regularly,” he said. “Big kid, big kid.”
This is where dreams come up.
The whole Hawkeye thing? That was Jamie’s dream. You know the Hawkeye thing runs deep here.
“Growing up, my dad, we really got close watching Iowa football games every weekend,” Parker said. “My dad (Alan) has his tradition around the house. I really didn’t know what was going on, I was young, but I kind of just watched my dad, you know, just watch the game. I’d see how he excited he got. I saw how excited my oldest brother, Jared, got. We were really big Iowa fans.
“We bleed black and gold here. Every Saturday just kind of became a tradition, like having little parties and stuff, you know, on Saturdays, and we’re always screaming our heads off at the TV. My dad basically got me into it, and then Tristan sort of started watching us a little bit and that’s how he kind of really got into it,”
Wirfs also was still growing into his body, one Cocoa Peebles-dipped piece of peanut butter toast at a time. If he saw the possibilities, he didn’t show it.
“I didn’t really watch all that much football,” Wirfs said. “I’d go out there and watch with them, in the fall. I was probably already at Jamie’s house. He was like, ‘We’re going to play for the Hawks when we’re older.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, OK.’
“When we had our pads in fifth grade for Youth Sports Foundation Football, we’d be hitting each other in the front yard. I had a Warren Sapp jersey. He had a Miami Devin Hester one.”
This whole time, Parker had his eyes on his friend’s feet. The two talked about what doctors would say about the possibilities with Tristan’s growth, but Parker just looked at Tristan’s feet.
“He always had massive feet, that is the one thing that’s always stood out about Tristan,” Parker said. “That’s how I knew he was going to get big. It was his feet, man.”
In middle school, Wirfs had size 13s and 14s. Sarah Wirfs would have to shop online.
Parker knew Wirfs was going to be big, but he still didn’t know if football did it for Tristan.
“I really don’t think he knew what he wanted to do until he started growing,” Parker said. “Tristan and I would always talk about football. We were always super close about that. We wanted to go to the same college and live next to each other.”
And then the two started playing the EA Sports NCAA Football video game. All-nighters out there in Martelle. When Jamie won, he could see it got in Tristan’s bones.
“We were always super competitive against each other,” Parker said.
The competitiveness went from video games to whatever sport. More and more, Parker noticed how much Wirfs hated to lose and he noticed Wirfs started to plug in.
“He started working harder and once his body caught up, with his work ethic, it’s just easy for him now. It’s just all cake.
“He was always super athletic, super coordinated. He’s one of those very few kids who’ll work in his backyard, teaching themselves how to throw left-handed or spinning a basketball on his fingers. I could never do half of the stuff he did.”
Parker, who lives in Martelle and works for a roofing company across the street from his house, has been with his giant friend out in the world.
What’s it like for people when you know they’re seeing him for the first time? There has to be some sort of wonder, no?
“All of the time, man. All of the time,” Parker said. “I kid you not. I would watch people’s reactions when we walked by someone, whether it was downtown Iowa City or Martelle, Mount Vernon, whatever. I’d always watch their reactions. Once he got to 6-5, people would just look up and, ‘Oh my gosh.’
“I could see them muttering under their breath, ‘That kid is so big.’”
Jamie and Tristan get their hair cut at the Men’s Room Hair and Beard Parlor on Mount Vernon Road in Cedar Rapids.
“The looks he gets in there, man,” Parker said. “You have to respect a man that big. It’s crazy. Looking at him, he’s going to be mean, right? No. He’s the nicest kid ever.”