Jimmy Lafakis is in eighth grade.
He is on his way back to Northwest Indiana from New Orleans, where he and his mother Kathy had just watched Butler defeat Wisconsin in the 2011 NCAA tournament. Spirits were high, even though Jimmy couldn’t stay to watch the Bulldogs take on Florida—he had to be back at school on Monday.
The two decided on the next best thing: stopping at Butler to catch the game. Jimmy and his mother stood in the Reilly Room and stared, transfixed, as Butler defeated Florida 74-71, propelling them to the Final Four.
“Oh my gosh, they won,” Kathy says. “All the kids on campus went outside to celebrate, and I took a picture of Jimmy celebrating as a middle schooler with all these college kids. He was so elated. He just had a love for Butler from back then.”
That moment was the first time Butler felt like home to Jimmy.
Jimmy is a first-year student at Butler.
It is fall of 2015, and he is finally enrolled at the university he had been cheering on since middle school.
“My parents did not go to Butler,” Jimmy says. “I wanted to go somewhere and write my own story and, you know, do my own thing. And I’m glad I did.”
It didn’t take long for Jimmy to write that story on campus.
Scott Bridge, College of Communication Lecturer and Internship Director, recalls his first impressions of Jimmy, who was his student and advisee.
“He’s one of the kindest, most sincere people I have ever met,” Bridge says. “And he continued that way through all four years. His attitude was one that I learned from because I thought, ‘Gosh, so many of us need to probably be a little bit more like Jimmy Lafakis’.”
Jimmy truly found his footing when he joined the sports section of The Collegian, which he describes as the foundation of his entire Butler experience. Jimmy was assigned to cover women’s volleyball, but it was nearly impossible to miss him on the sidelines of any sporting event—his eyes staring through his camera lens to capture a fleeting moment in the game.
“One of the things you notice about Jimmy after you get to know him for a little while is that you will rarely see Jimmy without his camera,” Bridge said. “And I know he was very valued over in the Athletics department…because he was a fixture over there at Hinkle for all four years, and he took so many photos in so many different sports. Everybody—from the coaches, to the staff, to the athletes—everyone knew Jimmy.”
The estimated hundreds of thousands of photos that Jimmy took during his four years at Butler never felt like work to him. He had a voracious appetite for sports—football, basketball, soccer—Jimmy wasn’t picky. He just loved what he did.
“I was just happy to be out there covering, writing, taking photos, whatever the case may have been,” Jimmy says. “That’s one thing I’ve taken with me into my jobs. There are a lot of things, especially right now, in the world that we can’t really control. The one thing I can control is my attitude. I can control my effort. And I can control my work ethic.”
Jimmy is a senior at Butler.
It is the spring of 2019, he is graduating with a major in journalism and a minor in strategic communication, and he has to make a decision.
One thing to understand about Jimmy is that he loves Indiana. He grew up in Indiana, he went to school in Indiana, and his circle of family and friends reside in Indiana.
Now he is receiving a job offer to be a sports reporter at the Minot Daily News in Minot, North Dakota—a city that is only about an hour south of the Canadian border. But Jimmy always likes to write his own story, so he took the position. His first day landed on July 15, 2019—his birthday.
“Just try something new and see what that has to offer,” Jimmy says. “Yes, it gets really cold, but the place is beautiful. They call it the Peace Garden State for a reason. I learned so much about myself, about the work I could do. It was my first experience in, you know, in the real world.”
The “real world” of North Dakota yielded some drastically different stories than Jimmy was used to covering. In just his second week on the job, he was covering the rodeo, working out how to report on bull riding and horse races when he was used to collegiate basketball.
Jimmy’s retelling of his time in North Dakota is interspersed with chuckles and awe, as he recounts his coverage of a high school wrestling tournament in Fargo—a familiar enough sport, but something he had not written about in the past four years at Butler.
“It was one of the most challenging experiences of my life because it was three days of non-stop action,” Jimmy says. “You’re literally being thrown in the fire. And I look back on those couple days fondly, because you know what? I got through it. I’m just like, man, if I got through that wrestling tournament, I could get through a lot of things.”
Jimmy continued covering high school and Class B sports in Minot until this past September, when Indiana called him home.
In the hopes of being closer to family and friends, Jimmy parted ways with the student athletes, athletic directors, editors, and community that had welcomed him for 14 months. He traveled 18 hours to Jasper, Indiana, where he now works as a sports reporter for the Dubois County Herald.
Jimmy is certainly in his happy place, covering whatever high school sports are currently in season.
Jimmy is in his “Kobe year,” as he and his parents like to say.
He is 24 years old—the number sported by the late NBA star Kobe Bryant—and he is still learning.
“Just in what’s basically been a year and a half, I have grown so much it’s unbelievable,” Jimmy says. “I’ve learned a lot about myself…And I know I’m young and I still have a lot to learn. But I’m figuring it out.”
Jimmy’s attitude toward learning is an apt indicator of his personality. His mother describes him as a “student of life,” but also a teacher.
“I’ve learned a lot from him,” Kathy says. “He teaches me every day. And, you know, that’s all a parent wants to do is to see their child succeed and do what they love to do. So, as a parent, I’m just thrilled for him.”
For now, Jimmy plans to keep his ever-present watch at the sidelines of any game he can attend, camera poised, mind racing with stats and adrenaline pumping at the institution that is Indiana high school sports.
If one thing is certain, his mind always returns to Butler.
“I hope I’ve inspired somebody,” Jimmy says. “I hope somebody out there at Butler looks to me and says, ‘You know what? Jimmy is setting a good example,’ because there are so many people who set an example when I got there…I mean, it’s been fun, man. I just have gratitude in my entire life.”
Keep up with Jimmy and his work on Twitter.