ARLINGTON – A year ago, Benjamin Monti went to the Coaches vs. Cancer event at Arlington High School for the first time.
Like most people, his family knows others who have dealt with the disease.
“It’s near and dear to our hearts,” he said, adding he thought it was great how the community came together to raise money to fight cancer.
Monti went again this year with his family. Only this time he was one of the honorary coaches. He was diagnosed about three weeks ago with Stage 3 esophageal cancer.
“It means something a little different” this time, he said. “It’s overwhelming the amount of love that’s in this town.”
AHS boys basketball coach Nick Brown and his wife Caryn started the event nine years ago after she dealt with breast cancer. Each year the event raise thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society.
Each year there are honorary coaches – people who are fighting cancer. This year, five of the seven coaches were kids.
The Browns and the community honor the coaches, trying to put smiles on their faces, even if just for a short time. This year, the coaches rode in an 18-passenger stretch limousine, bracketed by two fire engines with sirens blaring. They were greeted by a drumline and cheerleaders. Inside, the gym was packed with supporters wearing pink t-shirts.
In a classroom prior to the introduction ceremony in the gym, the basketball team met with the coaches in an emotional setting.
Heather Logan told the players to be gentlemen – to “give it your all” but show good sportsmanship as many people will be watching them.
Caryn Brown said she knows what the honorary coaches are going through. “The fear, the anxiety – all types of emotions,” she said.
However, she added, on this night, please try to enjoy the community’s support. “What we do is amazing – truly special,” she said.
Basketball team captain senior Anthony Whitis added, “This means so much to us.”
Some of the honorary coaches and family members also spoke up, saying things like, “I have been given so much,” and “You can’t know what it means until you’re on the other side.”
Verlaine Meyers, a teacher at Haller Middle School, said: “Always find a way to smile. It could be worse. Don’t get down. No one wants to have cancer, but you can learn from the low times.”
Monti told the players: “You guys really are a part of something special. It builds character.”
Coach Brown got choked up when he gave advice to the honorary coaches and their families.
“Take the help,” he demanded, even though you’re not going to want to because of pride. “Get over it.”
He also told the caregivers to take care of themselves. “They need you fresh,” he said of the cancer patients.
At the end, the players, honorary coaches and families gathered together, but it may as well have been the entire community.
“Family on three – 1, 2, 3 ‘Family.’”
•Benjamin Monti: He was diagnosed with Stage 3 esophageal cancer in December. His treatment began Jan. 9 and includes chemotherapy and radiation, as well as invasive surgery this spring. •Verlaine Meyers: A seventh-grade science teacher at Haller Middle School, she was diagnosed in September with breast cancer. The disease was caught in its early stages and has been removed through surgery and other measures.
•Destinee Williams: A junior at Arlington High School, she just completed radioactive iodine treatment for thyroid cancer. She is a member of the Arlington High School wrestling team.
•Maddy White: A sophomore at AHS, she was diagnosed with leukemia at age 10 while attending Presidents Elementary. After 2 1/2 years of chemotherapy, she is now almost three years off treatment and is in remission. She is involved in the pep and marching bands, along with jazz and wind ensemble. She wants to study music in college.
•Bree Sanchez: Five months ago, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She is an eighth-grader at Haller Middle School and played on that school’s varsity basketball team last year.
•Ayden Rapelyea: A sixth-grader at Haller, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November of 2017. After completing six months of chemotherapy and radiation, he is now cancer free.
•Jocelyn Dice: She was also an honorary coach at this event last year, but she was on crutches. This year she has a prosthetic foot after going through chemotherapy and surgery. She is in the third grade at Kent Prairie Elementary.