York County, as a whole, is 911 square miles.
But, in the realm of high school athletics, it might as well be broken into 15 separate entities, with each of the 15 York County schools that compete in the York-Adams League like their own island. Rarely, when you step inside one of those 15 areas, will you find someone who supports a team other than the school in his or her own district.
The fan bases are passionate, filling gyms and stadiums to cheer on their beloved athletes, while rival supporters aren't afraid to venture into enemy territory for a road contest. It's one of the many things that make high school sports something that athletes remember forever.
But, make no mistake about it, even though their rooting interests may differ, there is still a common bond between every single person in the area — they are all York County residents. There hasn't been a more perfect example of that bond than when the county fans put their individual rooting interests aside and rally around an athlete, or any other student, who's suffering from severe health problems.
The area has seen a number of teenagers fall ill to the horrors of cancer just in the past couple of years. It's an illness so destructive to the mental and physical health of a human, that it can leave anyone remotely associated with someone diagnosed with cancer feeling devastated.
Four get our support: So, when four local teens each received the horrifying news from their doctors that they had cancer, the entire county felt the impact and the need to help. The four kids affected — Maddie Hill, Brandon Hohenadel, Peter Falci and Marcus Josey — were not only outstanding students at four different high schools, but also athletes.
Hill, a senior at Dover High School, suffers from myelodysplastic syndrome. In short, it's caused by dysfunctional blood cells and forced her to undergo a bone marrow transplant back in the fall of 2013. She encountered problems earlier this year and needed to undergo another transplant.
Hohenadel, now a graduate of Eastern York, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2013, which affects the blood and bone marrow. He played basketball through his freshman year with the Golden Knights before stopping. Still, it was basketball, which he continues to play for fun, that helped him get through his treatment and help him rebuild his strength.
Falci, a senior basketball player at Central York, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in early March, just days before the Panthers took part in the PIAA state tournament.
And Josey, a junior at Northeastern and the quarterback for the Bobcats' football team, was the most recent athlete to find out he had cancer, diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia on April 10, the most common form of childhood cancer.
Those four graced York County with their excellence on the court and field when they were healthy, so it was only fitting that the county came together to support them in their time of greatest need.
Raising money: T-shirt drives were the biggest source of fund raising for each of the patients' families. The Dover community sold "Fight Like Hill" shirts for Hill, while Eastern sold "Brandon's Battle" shirts with a cancer ribbon on them in support of Hohenadel. Central started a drive by selling "Play for Pete" shirts for Falci that the basketball team wore for warm-ups before its state tournament game and Northeastern is selling "#MarcusStrong" T-shirts for Josey's fight.
But, instead of settling for the bare minimum to help, the York community continued to help these kids in any way possible. On top of the T-shirt drives, Dover held a marrow donor registry drive on March 14, so more victims like Hill don't have to wait as long to find a match. This June will be the second annual Brandon's Battle golf outing to help raise money for Hohenadel's continuing medical expenses and for other pediatric cancer patients. Just in the last year, there's been more than $12,000 raised for him and his family. And to show how the entire county is rallying around these kids, even York Suburban took part in helping raise money and awareness for Hohenadel's fight, by holding a white out during the Trojans' boys' volleyball match against the Golden Knights in 2013.
In Josey's case, a GoFundMe account was set up online under the name "Keep #MarcusStrong" to raise money for his treatment. Just in the week since it was created, more than 100 donors contributed more than $6,000 to his fight. It's hard to imagine that other communities, besides Northeastern, haven't helped contribute to that total.
Looking out for them: Josey said it best last week after he underwent his first day of chemotherapy: "The support is amazing," he said. "I honestly didn't think I had that many people out there caring for me and looking out for me. The people at my school are amazing. They're honestly helping me get through this a lot better than I think I would without all that support."
The outreach and support for these kids extends much further than the walls of their school and district. When any member of York County falls ill, the entire community rallies around them.
Individually, you've rooted them on during their athletic endeavors, but this is a battle for which the entire county can, and has, rallied around them. Now, more than ever, these kids need your support in a fight much bigger than anything they could've ever endured on the fields or courts.
And that's something we can all come together and support.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org