On April 26, 2012, something extraordinary happened at Middle Creek High School in Apex, North Carolina. To say "thank you," senior football and basketball star Rashawn King treated all his classmates, teachers and staff members to lunch in the school cafeteria. The "guest list" numbered about 1,900 people.
Rashawn had much to be thankful for, and many people to thank. His gratitude had nothing to do with the school community's support for his exploits on the gridiron or the court. Instead, his gratitude had everything to do with the school community's support in his battle to live.
After being diagnosed with leukemia near the end of his sophomore year in June of 2010, Rashawn missed the 2010 football season and the 2010-11 basketball season. A local newspaper captured the swift turnabout: "Just a few months ago, Rashawn King could change the tide of football games with his zig-zag runs and lightning-quick interceptions. For ten years, he captained an AAU basketball team that won a national championship last year. Lately, though, [he] has hardly been able to get out of bed."
Because Rashawn battled cancer with an uncertain prognosis for nearly two years, he caught the attention of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which seeks to fulfill the dreams of children battling life-threatening medical conditions. He could have received almost any wish he wanted, and his first impulse was to ask to attend the NBA All-Star Game and meet his idol, LeBron James.
Then, as the Foundation began making plans to contact the NBA, he had second thoughts and decided on the lunch. "I had made a selfish wish," he said, "I had a chance to really touch people and I was missing it. Why not give back to the people who cared for me? They helped me. Why not say, ‘thank you'?"
Care and help indeed. The football team held a "Pray for Ray" night at a 2010 game and conducted fundraisers to help support his medical care. As he lay in intensive care, cards and letters flooded the hospital and dozens of his teammates and friends would camp out in the lobby. The high school's digital media academy produced a video documenting his fight to recover.
With his leukemia in remission and the prognosis for recovery positive by his senior year, Rashawn returned to the football team to score two rushing touchdowns and also won second-team all-conference honors in basketball. His diminished strength and endurance did not faze him. "I was upset when I realized that I wasn't as good as I had been, but I also knew I had changed. Sports used to be my life, and sports isn't my life any more. I know that people love and care for me."
Rashawn is not out of the woods yet. To defeat the cancer once and for all, he still takes two dozen pills a day and still endures chemotherapy and spinal injections once a month. But the outlook appears promising. As he hugged his hundreds of friends and supporters during the special lunch in April, he had plenty to say about them. They were "there for me when I was down. . . . Some of these people say that I'm an inspiration. But they are my inspiration."
"We've never had a wish like this," reported the Make-A-Wish Foundation's local president, "We've never had anyone who wanted to share his wish with this many people." But the Foundation provided lunch to all 1900 special "guests."
The Power of "Thank You"
Too often in youth league and high school sports, we take the "power of ‘thank you'" for granted. When I served as president of a youth hockey program for more than ten years, for example, I was surprised by how often volunteer coaches went unthanked by parents and players for their efforts. I knew the families' appreciation because the parents and players would tell me how much they liked and respected the coach. The point was that many families did not bother to tell the coach. Shaking hands and saying thank-you face-to-face takes very little effort, but the gesture recognizes a job well done. The families in our youth hockey program were good people, but some needed gentle reminders to express their gratitude directly to people who do them a good turn.
Sometimes gentle reminders can come from thoughtful players themselves. In As You Like It, William Shakespeare said that "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." He might be right, but high school cafeterias normally provide no stage for heroism. By simply saying "thank you" in the best way he knew how, Rashawn King was a player who made the most of his stage at Middle Creek High School.
Sources: Point After: "King's Wish Granted," Southwest Wake News, Apr. 24, 2012; Tim Stevens, "Athlete Gets His Wish: Thank-You Lunch for 1,900 at Middle Creek," News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), Apr. 27, 2012; Ted Richardson, "Athlete Faces Fiercest Fight," Southwest Wake News, July 28, 2010; William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII.
Posted June 1, 2012