WRIGHTSVILLE -- What started with a scare a few years ago inspired Hanover High School's Abbey Rhodes to do something to make a difference.
Rhodes, a senior forward for the Nighthawk girls' basketball team, had a tumor in her chest removed during the summer before her freshman year.
Fortunately for Rhodes, the nearly grapefruit-sized tumor wasn't cancerous. Rhodes, however, spent time in an oncology unit with other kids with cancer while recovering from surgery and saw first-hand the effects that the disease can have.
Suffice it to say, Rhodes' life took a different turn from that point on.
"My life has basically changed," Rhodes said moments after her team fell 56-28 to Eastern York Wednesday night. "I had a different view on life and I wanted to give back."
Taking an idea from a Hershey Bears' game she attended, Rhodes has been holding a "Teddy Bear Toss" during a home basketball contest in December each year since. This year's toss garnered several hundred stuffed dolls, that are then donated to Caitlin's Smiles, a charity that donates stuffed animals to children with cancer.
When Rhodes found out that Eastern's Bree Taylor was diagnosed with leukemia before a game a year ago, she and her mother, Lori, got some balloons, flowers and a teddy bear for Taylor. The Eastern team and coaching staff was truly moved by the gesture.
"We were just shocked that the same day that the announcement was made (about Taylor) that they would have stuff for us," Golden Knight head coach Bob Heiser said.
In a sign of remarkable sportsmanship, Heiser's assistant coach, Amy Scerbo, decided to do something to honor Rhodes' selfless gestures. Earlier this season, Scerbo decided to use Wednesday's home contest as a forum for fans and the community to donate teddy bears and other stuffed animals for Rhodes' cause.
"I felt it was a way to honor a kid that did a very nice thing," Scerbo said. "I know that our school was very nice and giving with the way things happened last year, but I was surprised with how many we collected tonight."
Perhaps the biggest undertaking of all was keeping Rhodes in the dark about the plans. Hanover coach Denny Garman didn't even let his own team -- except Rhodes, who was still kept in the dark -- know about Wednesday's surprise until the end of Tuesday's practice.
"(Amy) called me early in the season and let us know that it was going to be a surprise," Garman said. "I didn't tell our girls until (Tuesday) night. I didn't want them to have to hold that secret too long."
Rhodes was clearly caught off guard.
"Oh my gosh!" she said. "I was really surprised. I didn't expect any of this to happen. Coach just told us to wear red as they were having some sort of red-out. I wasn't expecting to get called out onto the court."
Sophomore teammate Shelbi Barnes, who will take over the reins for the "Teddy Bear Toss" along with freshman Morgan Herrick after Rhodes graduates this summer, found it difficult to try to keep the surprise under wraps.
"It was rough," Barnes said. "Especially when we walk in and see her in front of the (Fox 43) camera. We thought they gave it away."
Before warmups for the varsity game, Rhodes was called out to mid-court, where she was decorated with a parade of stuffed animals from the legions of Eastern youth basketball players.
In total, Rhodes and her family headed back to Hanover with five full cardboard boxes and several other garbage bags full of stuffed animals for donation.
"She'll find good homes for them, I'm sure," said Scerbo, who was wearing a red T-shirt with a teddy bear on the front and a "Bearing is caring" motto on the back.
Knights use second-half surge to pull away: Garman knew coming in that it would be a tall task for his Nighthawks to challenge the Golden Knights (13-3 overall), who are atop York-Adams Division III with a 7-1 mark.
He was particularly impressed by their showing in the second quarter, when they held the home team to just six points.
"We kept battling," Garman said of his team, which only trailed 26-20 at the break. "Our plan was to just pack it in and not let their big girls hurt us."
Those big girls -- Elizabeth Myers and Morgan DeRemer -- caught some flack from Heiser during the intermission and refused to be held in check over the final 16 minutes. DeRemer scored seven of her game-high 13 points while Myers poured in six of her 10 points in the second half to lead the Knights to victory.
That duo was particularly impressive on the boards, where they held a significant size advantage over Garman's team. Myers and DeRemer each finished with 11 rebounds.
Despite the outcome, Garman believes his team took a step forward Wednesday.
"I think we did," he said. "We didn't back down and the girls fought hard all night against some of the best big girls in the county."
Barnes led the Nighthawks (7-6 overall, 3-5 Division IV) with eight points, while Rhodes finished with seven points and seven rebounds. Abby Brate knocked down four 3-pointers and finished with 13 points for Eastern.
-- Reach Ryan Vander sloot at sports@yorkdis patch.com.