Cancer Awareness game takes Lady Archers to regionals and raises money for two children battling brain cancer
Meramec Girl’s Basketball Coach Shelly Ethridge was about to take to the court with her team to play their sophomore game. Winning meant the Lady Archers would be a top-seeded team and would continue to regionals. However, Feb. 22 meant something much more.
The girls came out for their pre-game warm up, but they were not wearing their jerseys. Instead they surprised their coach by sporting pink T-shirts, all with a picture of them with Ethridge’s mother who had lost her battle with lung cancer only a month before.
“I’m trying to give the pre-game talk, and I’m crying, trying to get them hyped for the game. It was pretty difficult,” Ethridge said.
During the game, Ethridge focused on how the girls were playing, never straying from her coach persona. On the outside, she looked like a businesswoman who would accept nothing short of a win. On the inside, she was fighting the emotion of what the game really meant.
This was the fourth annual Cancer Awareness game and the proceeds from the silent auction and raffles were going to two little kids who have been fighting brain cancer for most of their lives.
Eleven-year-old Jacob Swiderski and 4-year-old Braelynn French are both children of members of the Meramec family. Jacob’s father, Joe Swiderski, is the Athletic Facilities Manager and Braelynn’s mother, Shae French, played for Ethridge during her time at the college.
“The pressure is really not on the game itself, but the pressure is that we want to raise even more money than we have in the past because we have two recipients this year,” Ethridge said.
Braelynn and her mother were unable to attend the game, but Jacob sat in the stands with his parents. At halftime, Jacob received a blue, star-shaped balloon to recognize his nine-year fight with brain cancer.
Ethridge and Athletic Director Shawn Summe noticed Jacob was not feeling well, he said. On top of taking 32 pills a day, Swiderski said his son has seven tumors in his brain and is 50 percent blind in his right eye. He was rubbing his eyes not from a lack of sleep, but a lack of sight.
The girls continued to play, defeating the opposing MCC Penn Valley Lady Scouts 84-43. While Ethridge’s focus was on her players’ fight for victory, it was hard to not be distracted by a different kind of fight.
“It was a very emotional game. It brought back a lot of memories of my family and then to have Jacob in the stands
was just awesome. The fact that he was able to attend and the proceeds are going to him. It was just a very emotional game,” Ethridge said.
Summe said it was very special to be a part of the day. Ethridge’s mother came up with the idea for a cancer awareness event after she lost her husband, Mike Ethridge, to cancer in December 2011.
After the money used to pay for the T-shirts, Ethridge estimated Jacob and Braelynn would receive around $1,500 each to help defray the costs of hospital stays and treatments.
“It’s pretty awesome how fortunate we are at STLCC to have someone like Shelly who really cares and wants to make a difference. It takes a community to do this and the support has been awesome,” Summe said.
Admission to the game was free, but T-shirts were sold and a silent auction was held. People lined up by both tables throughout the game, their bids going for more than the gift certificates and other prizes.
Summe said it was great to see Ethridge’s passion outside of basketball. It is a yearlong process to get the donations that are raffled off, the silent auction items and the shirts before the game.
Even preparing for the game itself is different than any other.
“There’s more pressure on this game because everyone wants to win so badly for both our sophomores and in honor of my parents,” Ethridge said.
Ethridge said it was a very humbling feeling to be a part of the game. Her girls ended up nearly doubling their opponent’s score, securing their trip to regionals. Amongst the many emotions felt that day, the last thing Summe was worried about was a win.
“The game, that’s regardless. I wasn’t worried about that. For me, deep down, I’m just hoping that this excels today and the support with it. That’s probably more important for me,” Summe said.
When the game was over, people slowly began filing out through the gym doors. Swiderski and his wife were wrapping up a conversation as Jacob waited on the bleachers, sitting on his balloon so it would not fly away.
Throughout the past nine years, he has fought hard, having undergone five surgeries and three types of radiation.
Swiderski is used to the daily routine of Jacob’s life, acknowledging the energetic little boy he still is. But on Sunday, Jacob had won much more than the girl’s team did and it was time to go home and rest. The next day was another day to fight.
Braelynn was diagnosed with a rare cancerous brain tumor called a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). She is undergoing a clinical trial at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, TN.
Braelynn is very familiar with the basketball court. Her mom, Shae French, played basketball at St. Charles West. And then came to St. Louis Community College to play for the STLCC-Meramec Magic and Head Coach Shelly Ethridge and Assistnat Coach Melanie Marcy.
Shae’s teammate was Coach Janey Milligan, who is another assistant for the STLCC women’s team.
Her aunt, Blake French, is currently playing at William Woods University.
Braelynn is a bigtime fan and loves to cheer on her loved ones.
Despite all of the recent changes, Shae, Braelynn and their entire family are in good spirits.
They continue to stand firm in their belief that God is The Healer and will continue to do a miracle in Braelynn’s life. The family thanks everyone for their continued prayers and support.
Unfortunately, 11-year-old Jacob was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor when he was two-and-a-half years old.
Since his diagnosis, he has endured nine years of various chemotherapy drugs, three types of radiation, as well as five brain surgeries. His most recent surgery was Feb. 17, 2011.
Through it all, Jacob has been a strong, determined, very happy boy that has tackled each set-back like a champion.
You hear many children say that they are inspired by their parents. Jacob has inspired us more than we will ever inspire him.
Jacob is currently undergoing another round of chemotherapy.
The Swiderski family prays that through treatment God will finally put an end to this chapter of Jacob’s life.
Jacob’s father, Joe Swiderski, has been a long time employee of St. Louis Community College. He has coached baseball, and runs the athletic facilities for the STLCC-Meramec campus.