Concordia Lutheran High School’s school color is maroon. But the Zollner Stadium stands will be filled with pink at Friday’s Homecoming football game against Snider, all because of a young girl who has touched the lives of Concordia students and staff.
They are rallying around 11-year-old Aleigha Sweet of Fort Wayne, who is facing her third bout with cancer.
“She wants no pity,” said Michelle Converset, a Concordia teacher and student council adviser, who has helped coordinate the activities. “All she wants is to help people raise money to cure kids’ cancer.”
Aleigha fought a rare childhood lung cancer first diagnosed in 2006 when she was 4, and also a relapse of it, her father, Tom Sweet, said. She will have been free of that cancer for five years in November.
But in early August, they learned she now has a different type of cancer, embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, Sweet said. The disease attacks soft tissue in the body, the National Cancer Institute says on its website, www.cancer.gov.
“At first, I was a little sad, but then I got my courage up,” Aleigha said during her lunch period earlier this week at Bloomingdale Elementary School, where she is a fifth-grader. “I am just ready to be done with it.”
She started a year of chemotherapy Wednesday, and that will be followed by radiation treatments, her father said.
Concordia Lutheran students and staff learned about Aleigha’s new challenge in a brief email Tom Sweet sent to Converset, asking that they “Keep her in your prayers.”
“My heart just sank, of course,” Converset said.
Aleigha had first come to Concordia in March 2012 to talk with students about what it is like to have cancer.
Two students had proposed activities to collect money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises funds to help cure childhood cancers. The Concordia project leaders invited Aleigha to speak with their classmates, as well as to take part in the event where faculty and students had their heads shaved to help raise money for St. Baldrick’s.
Concordia students were touched by Aleigha, her story and her belief in the healing "Power of Pink" during her first two cancers. She has been invited back to the school frequently.
After getting the news about Aleigha’s new cancer, Converset put out a large card for Aleigha that students could sign. They filled it quickly with signatures and well wishes.
Then the ideas started coming on other ways to support Aleigha.
“These are all ideas from the kids,” Converset added.
*Aleigha will be named an honorary homecoming queen during halftime of the home football game Friday, along with the traditional queen, king and court. The game starts at 7 p.m.; admission is $6.
*Students, staff and families will be wearing pink in the stands, or will pull off their maroon to reveal a shirt or something else pink for Aleigha’s crowning.
*Students in the band are planning to wear something pink.
*Cheerleaders had a small Concordia jersey made for Aleigha with “A-Sweets” on the back. While she was there Monday to lead the Lord’s Prayer at a chapel service, they presented it to her and named her an honorary varsity cheerleader. She hopes to cheer with them for one quarter at Friday’s game.
*While the card was out for students to sign, they started collecting donations for the Sweet family and raised $400 in two days.
Students also plan several other activities to raise money for Aleigha’s family or to show support for her.
Aleigha enjoys helping out at Concordia.
“They are not just sitting around and saying they are sorry for me,” she said. “They play with me. It is kind of like a fun escape.”
She also really appreciates the support they have given her during homecoming week.
“I thought it was pretty awesome they would do that,” she said. “Some that don’t even know me are doing stuff.”
Students’ response left Converset impressed as well.
“If given the opportunity,” she said, “they will serve in ways that far exceed any expectations you may have.”