Much more than T-shirts

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Show of support for longtime coach ends with donation to St. Jude’s

NAUGATUCK — What started out as a show of unity and support culminated last week with a $4,000 donation to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The City Hill Middle School girls basketball team raised the money by selling “Scheithe Strong” T-shirts.

The T-shirts were originally worn by the 20 players as a show of support for their coach, Fred Scheithe, who was battling cancer.

Scheithe, 70, who is in his 34th year of coaching middle school basketball, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in November 2014. He beat the cancer but it returned in October and had spread to his lymph nodes.

At the time, Scheithe gave the team bracelets that said “no one fights alone.”

However, Kaylee Jackson, an eighth-grader and one of the team’s captains, wanted to do something more for her coach.

“I figured the bracelets weren’t enough. I wanted to do something else for him, especially because it was the eighth-graders’ last season playing for him,” Jackson said.

Jackson designed the T-shirts, which read “Scheithe Strong” on the front and “We got your back” on the back. The team surprised Scheithe by wearing the T-shirts after an early-season game against Seymour.

At the time, it was just supposed to be a show of support.

“Whenever I think of this team, it is a family,” said Julia Kropo, a team captain.

However, after a photo of the girls wearing the T-shirts went viral on social media, requests began pouring in for the T-shirts.

Jeanne Scheithe, Fred Scheithe’s wife, said the first order was for over 150 shirts, and the orders kept coming in.

“I didn’t know it was going to be this big,” Jackson said.

Jeanne Scheithe said the interest in the T-shirts turned into the perfect opportunity for a fundraiser.

Right from the beginning, Fred and Jeanne Scheithe insisted that any money raised not benefit them.

“We didn’t want the money for us because right now we don’t need any money because the insurance is covering everything,” Jeanne Scheithe said.

The Scheithes looked to see if there were any students in the district that were battling cancer and could use the money. They didn’t find any and settled on donating the funds to St. Jude’s.

“We decided on St. Jude’s because no kid should have to go through cancer. It is bad enough when you, as an adult, have to go through cancer, but to see a kid with cancer just breaks my heart. We just thought it was a good place to donate to,” Jeanne Scheithe said.

Chris Pates, the senior philanthropic adviser in New England for St. Jude Children’s Hospital, came to City Hill last Wednesday to accept the check and talk with the team.

“We run our organization on the generosity of others. To see these girls come together and support us in honor of their coach is very special. They are learning about cancer but are helping kids they are never going to meet,” Pates said.

When talking with the team, Pates said fighting cancer is kind of like playing basketball.

“You want to stop the cancer and you want to beat it back. Kind of like when you are winning in a game. You don’t want the other team to get the advantage,” Pates said. “Momentum is everything in basketball. And momentum is everything in fighting cancer. We want to be ahead of the disease, we want to fight it back, and we eventually want it to go away.”

No one on the team would have predicted the outcome of making the T-shirts.

“This was such a great idea, and it is shocking that something so small can help people that we don’t even know,” said Cayla Howard, a team captain.

Jeanne Scheithe told the players all the work they put into helping her husband battle cancer will have a tremendous impact on a lot of lives.

“This is just an outreach of you helping him. The gesture you did with your shirts is going to help all those people,” she said.

Fred Scheithe told the girls they should be proud because they are making a real difference.

“Everyone says you are a special group because kids don’t usually do this and get involved,” he said. “You are kids helping kids.”

The greatest impact the girls had was on their coach, who is now cancer-free but will remain on chemotherapy for the rest of his life.

“You are always going to have a special place in our hearts because of what you have done for me. It sounds so simple, but going through what you have to go through for treatments and to be able to come back to you guys and have a practice, go to a game … I will be indebted to you forever,” Fred Scheithe said.