SACO – Most coaches go out of their way to keep players from thinking about anything other than the game or match at hand. But for Eric Marston, coach of the Thornton Academy girls’ basketball team, this year is anything but ordinary: after seven league games, with the team wearing their hearts on their uniform shirts, they find themselves atop the western Maine MPA standings.
Before the season began, some of the players on the team found out that Hayley Desjardins, 11, of Saco and a longtime supporter of the girls’ basketball program at Thornton, was again fighting a rare bone marrow disease, aplastic anemia. The players decided then and there to dedicate their season to Hayley, a student at Saco Middle School.
“I helped coach her travel team in the sixth and seventh grade,” said Ashley Howe, a junior at Thornton and starting forward on the team. “She was always the happiest person on the court, and would jump into my arms when she saw me.”
Hayley was first diagnosed with the disease in 2008 and, in 2009, her family, with the help of the Biddeford/Saco Elks Lodge, started the Hugs for Haley 5K road race. The first race and walk to support Hayley was held in 2009 and named “Hugs for Hayley.” As her condition initially improved, the name of the event was changed to “Hugs From Hayley.” The effort has raised thousands of dollars for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program to help other children who are afflicted with similar diseases, and at the end of her initial treatment, Hayley herself was in remission.
“Coach Marston always has kids in the gym and Hayley was just one of them,” Howe said.
When the team fully understood that Hayley would have to undergo treatment and the family would once again make regular visits to hospitals, doctors’ offices and treatment centers, they decided to dedicate their season to Hayley and her fight.
The team worked with the digital design classes at their school and came up with a logo that is part basketball and part heart, a logo that now adorns the T-shirts the girls wear to practice and before every game.
“The T-shirts are on sale in the front of the gym and they remind us that we’re playing for someone else, not our own recognition,” said Barrett Campbell, one of three new players who transferred to Thornton and now sees significant minutes on the team.
“We knew each other, because we played together in the summer,” said her twin sister, Hayden Campbell. “It really only took a few practices before we played as a team.”
One of the more noteworthy transfer students is Victoria Lux. Until this year, Lux played for McAuley High School and was an integral part of the school’s two state championship seasons.
“She’s been a great teammate,” Marston said. “And when she does come to the bench, she’s like another coach. She’s constantly up and active as she cheers on the other players.”
Lux signed a national letter of intent in November, 2014, and next year she will play division II basketball for Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts.
Given the new composition of the team and their commitment to Hayley Desjardins, it is fortuitous that the first game of the year was against McAuley. Last year, on their way to winning the state championship, the only loss of the season for McAuley came at the hands of the Thornton girls.
The team and their coaches knew Linell Gymnasium would be packed, and they saw this as a chance to raise some additional money for the Desjardins family. Gary Stevens, director of athletics and student activities at Thornton, agreed to donate $1 to the effort for every ticket sold to the game. Between ticket sales, donations and the sale of T-shirts, the girls raised a little more than $4,000, said Catherine Paradis, director of residential life and the mother of one of Hayley’s good friends.
“It was amazing to see,” Paradis said.
In addition to other fundraising efforts for the family, a bone marrow registration drive was held Wednesday, after the Courier’s deadline, at Fairfield School in Saco.
The McAuley game seemed destined for one ending, but those who looked at the score after the first quarter might have thought it would turn out differently. The team managed to score only three points during the quarter, and they were trailing by as many as 10 or 12 points entering the second half.
“I never have a doubt about our team,” Howe said. “We trust the team and we trust each other. We have a reason to play.”
Howe scored 13 points in the second half and, as a team, Thornton outscored McAuley 25-14. In the end, the team won by three points, 37-34. They had done it, but as their coached quickly reminded them, “it just means we’re 1-0.”
Because of her treatment, Hayley was not able to attend the game, but she was able to watch it stream live over the Internet. Hayley has had to make frequent visits to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, where she recently spent nearly two weeks.
The team has played seven more games since then and is averaging a little more than 50 points per game. If they continue at this pace, they will score nearly 1,000 points during the season and, for each point they score, the girls’ program will donate $1 to help Hayley’s family defray some of the expenses associated with her treatment.
The girls know they have a good chance to go far into the state tournament this year, but that is only one of their concerns. Shortly after their first game with McAuley, the team found out that their coach’s wife, Nancy Marston, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she, too, would begin treatment.
“We put a big sign in the gym. It says ‘Team Nancy,’” Hayden Campbell said.
At the end of every timeout, or any time the team gets together to huddle during a game, they put their hands together and collectively yell, “family.”
“It reminds us – that’s what we are,” Barrett Campbell said. “That’s how we play.”
To learn how to support Hayley Desjardins, email Eric.Marston@ ThorntonAcademy.org or donations may be made directly at: http:// www.gofundme.com/ HoopsForHayley?utm_ medium=wdgt.
A benefit dinner and silent auction for the family will be held 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17 at the Elks Club in Saco, 68 Ocean Park Road. Rick Perrone and the Night Rockers will perform. Tickets are sold at the club for $10 each.