The father-daughter story that is inspiring millions…

{Source: Devon Still's IG}
{Source: Devon Still’s IG}

 

Sports have divided us for years. The dynasties vs. the non dynasties. The haves vs. the have nots. The winners vs. the losers. Every once in a while, the tide shifts and rivalries are set aside as fans unite to lend support, encouragement and prayers to those who give so much to the game. There was the late Lou Gehrig, the late Jim Valvano, the late Kay Yow and the late Tony Gwynn. Recently, there has been Chuck Pagano, Pat Summitt, Stuart Scott, Jim Kelly and Lauren Hill. Then there is Leah Still…

Like most of you, I first heard of Leah this summer right after her father, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle, Devon Still was released from the team. What we would all soon find out is that their reason for releasing him was due to the fact that Leah is battling a rare form of pediatric cancer called neuroblastoma. Still came to the conclusion that in order to provide Leah with the care she needed, he would walk away from football. In one of the classiest moves ever by a professional sports organization, the Bengals informed Still that after being cut they would resign him to their practice squad. This move allowed Still to continue to receive health insurance thus ensuring Leah would receive the treatment she needs. Her medical expenses are expected to exceed $1 million and the NFL will cover 100 percent of the costs. A standing ovation is allowed at this moment.

The story spread rapidly. During a summer that was plagued with stories of domestic violence and child abuse, this gesture by the Bengals was a breath of fresh air. In an industry where the phrase, “It’s just business,” sours relationships and throws lives onto an emotional rollercoaster, it brought a smile to my face to see the powers that be put aside any thoughts of what can you do for me to view Still as what he is: human.

As news of the Bengals decision took over the news mediums, the organization took it a step further. Days after being signed to the practice squad, Still was upgraded to the active roster. After signing him to the 53 man team, the Bengals announced that they would donate all proceeds from the sale of Still’s number 75 jersey to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research. Within 24 hours, Still’s jersey set a record for the most sales during that time span in Bengals history. Another standing ovation is allowed at this moment.

Not only have fans stepped up to the plate but different NFL organizations, players and sports figures have as well. The Philadelphia Eagles sent Leah toys and a basket full of goodies. New Orleans Saints Head Coach, Sean Payton, purchased 100 Still jerseys(in sizes small and medium) and donated them to the Pediatric Care Hospital in Cincinnati. Hall of Famer, Jim Kelly, who was recently went into remission, sent Leah and Devon a personal note along with an autographed football and jersey. Commentators have been photographed holding up signs with the moniker Still wears under his eyes and across the bridge of his nose every game, “Leah Strong.” And perhaps one of the biggest tearjerkers took place on October 5 during the Sunday Night Football game between the New England Patriots and the Bengals. During the third quarter, as a video tribute to Leah and other children battling cancer played on the big screen, the Patriots cheerleaders unzipped their jackets to reveal the fact that they were wearing Still’s number jersey underneath. The cheerleaders had taken a page out of the owner, Robert Kraft’s, book who announced he would make a $25,000 donation to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Leah’s name. Yep. Worthy of another standing ovation.

This is what I love about sports. The camaraderie. The selflessness. The unity. As I watched the Bengals take on the Cleveland Browns last night, I smiled. I smiled because I knew that Leah was attending her first NFL game. I smiled because I had seen pictures of her in her Still jersey, adorned with rhinestones as she posed for pictures with the Bengals cheerleaders. I smiled through the tears as cameras caught the touching moment between daughter and father as Leah waved emphatically, from her suite, at her father on the field. And remember those jerseys fans and supporters eagerly purchased? The Bengals, with Leah on the field, presented a check for $1.3 millions dollars to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital last nigh in her name. You know what to do. Standing o.

Whenever you have a moment, say a prayer for Leah, her father, all the little ones battling this disease and their families. Often times, for as much as their little bodies are having to bear, they tend to light up the room. Their “I can beat this” and “One day at a time” attitudes serve as a reminder to us to never give up. We have a lot of fight in us if we are willing to tap into it. In the midst of this ordeal, both Leah and her father have been very inspiring. His Instagram(man_of_still75) posts are filled with positivity, gratitude and love. Still offers up a glimpse of his relationship with his daughter. He gives her pep talks, she beat boxes and dances and they both enjoy life in the now. I admire the strength of this little four year old warrior and I pray that her strength will carry her into a life of remission. Continue to live “Leah Strong” babygirl! We are all rooting for you!

 

Jimmy V to Stuart Scott: #DontEverGiveUp

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.” ~Jimmy V

 

I had a full day yesterday. Jimmy V would be proud. I laugh daily. My mind is constantly bombarded with thoughts. However, I do not allow myself to be moved to tears on a daily basis. Mainly because I do not always allow myself time to really sit down and reflect on the things that would bring tears to my eyes. When you hear the word tears, most of us immediately equate them with sadness. Often, when I do cry, it is not because I am sad. Most times I cry out of thankfulness. Thankfulness for my relationship I have with GOD. Thankfulness for my family and friends. Thankfulness for the life I have been blessed to live. In a sense, every day I should be moved to tears because every day I have something to be thankful for.

As I watched my favorite awards show, the ESPYs, last night I was reminded how truly blessed I am every day I am above ground. I watched as athlete after athlete graced the stage to thank countless people who helped them achieve the success they are experiencing. However, despite all the fan voted awards that are given, the award I anticipate the most is the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance.

March 4, 1993. The day Coach Jim Valvano delivered a speech that would change how many viewed life. I was nine years old and very much oblivious to the fact that one of the sports worlds most beloved personalities was fighting the battle of his life. As tumors laid rage on his body, Jimmy V issued a challenge to everyone. He only needed seven words, with three of them being repeated twice, to put many on a path to living a life of destiny: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” On that night, as Jimmy V stood giant-like and announced the formation of the V Foundation for Cancer Research, lives of people all across the country and world were being intertwined.

The late Coach Kay Yow. Kevin Everett. Don Meyer. George Karl. Anthony Robles. Eric LeGrand. Dick & Rick Hoyt. Stuart Scott. Some names are recognizable while others are not. What they all have in common is that they share the honor of being recognized with the Jimmy V Award. In 2007, I cried a river as I watched a woman whom I had the privilege to share words, hugs and gather pearls of wisdom from, Coach Yow, accept the award that beared the name of her late friend. I love hearing the stories of people who have overcome or are overcoming obstacles that stand in their way. They are no different than you and I.

Last night, as I watched Scott eloquently describe his fight against the c word, I was moved to tears. My day was complete. I watched as Scott beamed with joy over the fact that “Jack Bauer” presented him with his award. I was watched as Scott proudly talked about the support he has received from his employers and colleagues. I watched as Scott dropped the bombshell on us that he had just been released from a grueling seven day hospital stay three days earlier. Words cannot describe the amount of respect I have for this man. I watched as Scott laid out for us, firmly, his motivation for never giving up: his daughters. As he called for his daughter, Taylor, to join him on stage, I fell apart. Over 3,000 miles away I could feel the love between them as they embraced. As my eyes fell on my yellow bracelet on my arm, the same one that Scott wears regularly, I was reminded that we are all in this together.

{Source: Twitter}
{Source: Twitter}

Something was different about this year’s ESPYs. Maybe it was the fact that everyone’s Twitter handle associated with ESPN was changed to the V Foundation logo for the day. Maybe it was the fact that the ESPYs was honoring one of its most popular anchors. Or maybe its just the fact that as times goes on, I have become more in tune with what really tugs at my heart strings. From Scott’s moving speech where he told us how to beat cancer to US Veteran and hero, Jeff Sweeney, accepting the Pat Tillman Award for Service, the show was full of heroes who embody the spirit of never giving up.

As I rewound the broadcast to watch Scott’s speech again, I flashbacked to a scene that took place about seven years ago in Chapel Hill. I was invited to Late Night with Roy by a member of my extended family. In true Kassie fashion, I ventured over the enemy territory sporting North Carolina State red from almost head to toe. Scott was the host. In true Scott fashion, I was picked out of the crowd and the jokes began. After the event, I got to talk with Scott and he thanked me for participating and having fun with him. As we set to bid farewell, we posed for a picture and went our separate ways.

KSLStu

Back in the present, I once again looked down at my wrist. My yellow bracelet was shining brightly. The bracelet that links myself to Scott as well as others. My LIVESTRONG bracelet. The bracelet that has become a universal symbol for the fight against the c word. While I can not empathize with what Scott is experiencing, my life experiences unite us. My grandfather had it. My grandmother had it. Three times. My next door neighbor, who was like a grandmother to me, had it. My cousin had it. My friend Laura had it. My friend Trinita had it. My colleague Maria had it. My friend Celena just finished battling it. My friend Quincy is battling it. The names are countless. The number of people that have been effected are endless. The lives that have been changed are numerous.

Last night’s ESPYs shined a bright light on the community that surrounds those fighting the c word. As tweets scrolled across the bottom of the screen, including one from me, from people who are fighting or fight for others, I was reminded, once again, that we are all in this together. No one who battles the c word should have to battle alone. We should all fight together. We should all fight to ensure that generations to come never have to experience a life plagued by the disease. We should all fight to ensure that many more birthdays are experienced. We should all fight to ensure that each and every person who is fighting is held up by someone who is willing to fight with them and for them. We should all fight to ensure that Jimmy V’s word will forever reign…”Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Actions speak louder than words. What do yours say about you?

 

Until next time…LIVESTRONG.

 

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{Source: Google Images}
{Source: Google Images}

 

SURVIVE and ADVANCE

Last night I laughed, I thought, I cried. I laughed some more. I thought some more. I cried some more. The more thoughts ran through my mind, the more I cried. The more I watched ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, Survive and Advance, the more I realized just how special this story was.

It was over a year ago when I was perusing the North Carolina State University Pack Pride message board and I saw a thread(discussion) about a new 30 for 30 documentary. It was almost too good to be true. ESPN was producing a new documentary on the 1983 Men’s Basketball National Championship team. Seriously? Whoop whoooop!! I was beyond excited for two reasons: 1. 30 for 30 documentaries are huge! 2. They were doing a positive 30 for 30 documentary about my school. How cool is that? At the time, I wondered how well I would be able to contain my excitement.

On April 4, 1983, the North Carolina State University men’s basketball team shocked the world. One year old me was probably asleep in my crib, unaware of the historical moment that was taking place in the world. My mother knew. My grandparents knew. My brothers knew. However, as fate would have it, I would become the one with the most ties to the story.

August 2001, my junior year at North Carolina State University. I was a Student Assistant in the North Carolina State University Athletic Media Relations Office. As a Student Assistant, I would generate press releases, assist in the production of media guides and press conferences, field calls from the local and national media and serve as a media liaison at countless sporting events. I loved being a Student Assistant! It afforded me the opportunity to meet Wolfpack legends David Thompson(DT), Coach Kay Yow, Tommy Burleson, Monte Towe, Torry Holt, Julius Hodge as well as Kareem Adbdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Coach Pat Summitt, and Kirk Herbstreit, just to name a few. While I enjoyed doing all these things as they gave me a tremendous amount of hands on experience, one of my favorite things to do was the hang out in The Dungeon. The Dungeon was the nickname given to the locked cage in the basement of Reynolds Coliseum(former home of the men’s basketball team). In The Dungeon, we kept numerous file cabinets that housed folders filled with photos, newspaper articles, magazine clippings, collectibles, trophies and videos of student-athletes, past and present. I am talking DT, Burleson, Tom Brown, Tab Thacker, Julie Shea, Roman Gabriel, Holt, Genia Beasley, Tab Ramos and the 1983 championship team.

It was never unusual for me to go down to The Dungeon with the intent of grabbing a picture out of DT’s folder, only to end up browsing through the 1983 championship folder to see if I could find out something new. The story was absolutely fascinating and it truly played out like a movie. A man had a dream. A dream to cut down the nets. This man took a job at a university with a rich basketball tradition with the same end goal in mind, cutting down the nets. In the the midst of the man’s third year at the helm, with his team enjoying one of their best starts, his star player, a senior, went down with a broken foot. From that point on the man’s team experienced an up and down year where it seemingly tried to find its footing in a very competitive Atlantic Coast Conference. Just when it seemed like the impossible would indeed be that, a road never traveled opened up…

The documents I found in The Dungeon helped me to somewhat grasp just how special this man’s team was. I began to understand a little more why Wolfpackers, past and present, always beamed with pride when talking about that team. Wanting to know more, I would often talk with Assistant Media Relations Director Bruce Winkworth, who was working at North Carolina State during the time of the 1983 run. The stories he would tell about that magical season always left me wishing I could rewind time and relive those moments as a student. The pictures he shared from pep rallies, games and the celebrations on Hillsborough Street and in the Brickyard after the championship game gave me chills down my spine and always left me just a little bit jealous.

March 17, 2013, the world premiere of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Survive and Advance.”  The story of the 1983 North Carolina State University Men’s Basketball National Championship team and the man who inspired the dream, Jim Valvano affectionately known by Wolfpackers as Jimmy V. As I sat and watched the star player, Dereck Whittenburg, insert his humor into such a compelling story, I began to do what many others before me have done, beam with pride. Hearing the story from the mouths of Whittenburg, Thurl Bailey, Ernie Myers, Terry Gannon, Cozell McQueen and former Graduate Assistant, Max Perry infused with footage of Jimmy V, was more than enough to bring a grown woman and many grown men to tears. Up until last night, I understood how big this story was to Wolfpack Nation. After last night, I understood how big this story was to the ENTIRE nation. As Twitter blew up, with five of the top 10 nationwide trends, centering on this particular story, I realized that the 1983 championship run was crafted to inspire millions in a way I think no one at that time ever imagined. As an alumnus of North Carolina State University, pride is the best way to describe how I felt knowing I was connected to what Sports Illustrated named “the greatest moment in college basketball history in the 20th Century.”

During my tenure in the North Carolina State University Athletic Department, I had the pleasure of meeting members from the 1983 team. Most of the meetings were brief and some members were even shocked that I knew who they were. I am not sure if I ever said thank you to any of them. I am hoping I did because their belief in themselves strengthened a nation’s resolve to follow in their lead. Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of meeting Jimmy V. What an honor it would have been to be in his presence and grab nuggets of wisdom from him. I am sure we would have shared some laughs as well. Not only was he destined to lead champions on the court but his courageous battle with cancer destined him to inspire generations after him to never quit. After watching the documentary, I truly believe this end was result was what God had planned all along.

To the late great Coach Jimmy V and the 1983 championship team: THANK YOU!!! Thank you for showing us how to believe. Thank you for dreaming. Thank you for never saying never. Thank you for seeing beyond what you saw. Thank you for fighting. Thank you for making us laugh, think and cry. Thank you for loving one another. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for being a part of THE PACK! Thank you for being a living example of the V Foundation’s motto, “Don’t give up! Don’t ever give up!” Thank you for teaching us how to SURVIVE obstacles that come our way and how to ADVANCE pass them. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

I want to send a special THANK YOU to the documentary’s director, Jonathan Hock. What an amazing piece of art. You should definitely get some awards for this. If you do not, I am sure Wolfpack Nation will be very unhappy. You know how passionate we are.

Sincerely,

Proud Alumnus, Kassaundra S.

Na-na-na-naaa-na-na-na-na-GO STATE!!

'The dunk heard round the world'{Source: NY Daily News}
‘The dunk heard round the world’
{Source: NY Daily News}
{Source: alumniblog.ncsu.edu}
{Source: alumniblog.ncsu.edu}
{Source: sportsthenandnow.com}
{Source: sportsthenandnow.com}
One of the most iconic images, V needs someone to hug! [Source: protivitirecruiting.blogspot.com}
One of the most iconic images, V needs someone to hug!
[Source: protivitirecruiting.blogspot.com}
Iconic shot of Cozell McQueen..PACK POWER!! {Source: www2.kusports.com}
Iconic shot of Cozell McQueen..PACK POWER!!
{Source: www2.kusports.com}
Charles & McQueen{Source: bleacherreport.com}
Charles & McQueen
{Source: bleacherreport.com}
This one is not mine but I have one of these :-}
This one is not mine but I have one of these :-}
Front page of the student newspaper, The Technician{Source: The Technician}
Front page of the student newspaper, The Technician
{Source: The Technician}
DREAM FULFILLED.{Source: www.ign.com}
DREAM FULFILLED.
{Source: http://www.ign.com}
{Source: Sports Illustrated}
{Source: Sports Illustrated}
Rest in Peace Jimmy V and Lorenzo Charles...your legacy continues...
Rest in Peace Jimmy V and Lorenzo Charles…your legacy continues…