Alyssa Yarem and her volleyball teammates at Apex Friendship High School went to great lengths to ensure a big crowd would turn out for their Oct. 18 match, and that meant arriving early at school.
“We were outside the school every morning cheering for people to come to the game,” said Yarem, a junior middle blocker.
But their effort was about more than encouraging classmates and parentsto see the Patriots beat Holly Springs, their Southwest Wake Athletic Conference rival.
The opponent was pediatric brain cancer. For the second consecutive year, Apex Friendship’s volleyball players teamed up with Bob’s Buddies, an organization that raises awareness of pediatric brain cancer research and offers support to families affected by it.
The event, which has now become a tradition, is part fundraiser, part spirit builder. The players dedicate the game in honor of children battling brain cancer. Families connected to Bob’s Buddies, as well as all cancer survivors, are recognized.
Bob’s Buddies was formed by G105 radio personality Bob Dumas from “Bob and the Showgram” and his wife, Lu, after Bob was in remission from his own battle with brain cancer. Lu Dumas said only 4 percent of federal funding is designated for pediatric brain cancer research. She added that 13 children are diagnosed every day.
The event came together as the result of symmetry between Apex Friendship Coach Stephanie Fahrer’s desire to involve her players in a charity event and having Katie Dumas, the daughter of Bob and Lu Dumas, on her team. Katie is a junior defensive specialist.
“I wanted to do something different,” Fahrer said. “When Lu came to me, I thought it was a great idea. I’m proud of the girls. They have really put their arms around the project and embraced it.”
By any measure, the night was a success. The team raised $3,600.
The crowd energy and volume resembled a crucial basketball game on a winter Friday night. Although the gym was shy of capacity, a crowd that nearly filled two-thirds of the seats doubled or tripled normal midweek attendance. A large student section filled the center seats, and the full complement of varsity and JV cheerleaders kept the energy pulsating.
“The atmosphere was so great,” Yarem said. “The adrenaline was flowing.”
To top it off, the Patriots came from behind in both the second and third games to sweep Holly Springs, 3-0.
In the gym lobby, gift baskets – packaged after athletes solicited community donations – were on display. The lobby bustled from 4 p.m. until the match started at 6 p.m. Fans purchased raffle tickets and dropped their tickets in jars placed in front of the donation items they hoped to win.
The packages included North Carolina football tickets and souvenirs and North Carolina State basketball tickets and a signed ball from Tom Burleson of the Wolfpack’s 1974 national championship teams. There were “date night” packages with tickets to dinner and a movie, gift certificates for a spa night and jewelry. There also were red-white-blue Apex Friendship afghans.
The packages were awarded during timeouts and the breaks between games. Lu Dumas grabbed the microphone each opportunity and said, “Get your raffle tickets out!” Long ticket rolls unfurled from pockets as fans awaited Dumas to read off the winning numbers.
Most valuable cheers
The night’s most valuable cheers, though, came during introductions. Instead of announcing starting lineups, families of children with brain tumors were introduced. They were escorted on the court by Apex Friendship and Holly Springs players.
Some families included their child in remission or healthy enough to attend. Others were parents representing a sick child unable to attend, while some were parents who have lost a child to brain cancer.
Yarem escorted Charlotte Deel, a 5½-year-old girl fighting a tumor on her brain stem and vertebrae. The tumor’s location has paralyzed her arms and stunted some development, but she rapidly wheeled herself around on an adaptive tricycle.
Charlotte is stable, meaning the tumor is no longer growing but not in remission. This was her second year participating in the Apex Friendship event, and she has visited with the players at practices.
“I don’t think she understand these are fundraisers for brain tumors, but she enjoys the attention,” said Charlotte’s mother, Lauren Deel. “The girls on the volleyball team have been so sweet to Charlotte. We appreciate the friendship they have formed with our family.
“They talk to Charlotte at practice, and we saw them when they came to a Bob’s Buddies radio-thon at the station. They raised $4,000 last year, and that’s a lot of money for an event like this. I’m so impressed with these girls.”
Lauren Deel said her daughter has benefited from the research done in her lifetime and she’s hopeful that further research will benefit other children – and Charlotte if her tumor grows again.
“We feel like she is still with us because of the research,” Lauren Deel said.
Apex Friendship opened as a new school last year with only sophomore and freshmen classes, so this year’s juniors will be seniors in 2017-18. They will have worked on the fundraiser for three years.
“It was great to see the smile on Charlotte’s face,” Yarem said. “That makes it all worth it. We’re fortunate we can play volleyball, and it makes it great for us to make someone’s day and raise money for research. The atmosphere with everyone coming out was so great.”
It was worth waking up early.