Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

February 15, 2014

Hope (and hoops) for Hunter

Clearfield Elementary student with cancer gets joy with Rowan County basketball

MOREHEAD — Hunter Mitchell loves basketball.

The first-grader from Clearfield Elementary can be seen in a Rowan County jumpsuit with his very own whistle and stopwatch. He stands inside the huddle as high school boys coach Shawn Thacker outlines a game plan to the Vikings.

It’s like he’s part of the team.

“He’s a crackerjack,” Thacker said. “He’s a fun kid to talk to and be around. He’s got charisma and spunk and that’s everything that we look for in our players and coaches.”

Much like in the game of basketball, there is adversity to overcome and setbacks in life.

Mitchell and his family know that all too well.

The 7-year-old is in his third bout with cancer in his young life. The type of cancer, Neuroblastoma, is a tumor that develops from nerve tissue that primarily targets infants and children.

Mitchell gets his treatment at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He goes there once a week and undergoes treatment every 21 days.  

Thacker first met Mitchell during a visit at his home. Thacker is a homebound teacher for students. He noticed a basketball goal in the living room and both started talking about the game.

That’s when Thacker asked him to come to a game one night and be an honorary assistant coach.  

“It’s great,” Thacker said. “Any time you can do something for somebody who is putting up a fight, and doing something special for a kid like that, it’s special.”

Naturally, Hunter, who calls Rowan County “his team,” likes the big-impact plays that the Vikings can pull off on a nightly basis.

“I like it when they throw the ball up and one of them dunks it,” Hunter said. “It’s fun to be here watching them and I like coaching them around, too.”

Bradley Mitchell, Hunter’s father, brought him to last week’s game when the Vikings hosted Fleming County in a 61st District contest. Basketball is not only a release for Hunter, but his family as well.

“He loves doing this,” Bradley said. “It keeps his spirits up and gets his mind off things.”

Rowan County’s players immediately accepted Mitchell as one of their own. They had Hunter sign their shoes. He slaps hands with all of them as they are announced for the starting lineup. He looks for a newspaper any time it comes out to see his favorite players on the front page.

On more than one occasion this season, the boys basketball program has helped raise money for Hunter and his family. They have collected more than $1,000 to help pay for travel expenses.

“It’s been a good experience for him and I’m proud of the community and the way they have stepped up to help this family out,” Thacker said. “We all know they’re going through a tough time and this is just a way for us to help one of our own out.”

Thacker said Hunter is just as good of a student as he is a coach. He gets perfect scores on spelling and reading tests and stays on task. While he is in Cincinnati undergoing treatment, an instructor helps him with his work so he does not get behind.

Much like the adversity in a basketball game when Rowan County is down by a few points late in the fourth quarter, there is only one thing that Hunter said he has to do.

“I have to fight it,” he said clearly.

“He’s strong and he gets us through it more than anything,” Bradley said. “It doesn’t bother him because he knows it has to be done. He’s a fighter.

“He doesn’t let anything get him down.”

For Thacker and his players, it’s a real reminder of what life is all about.

“Our kids appreciate him and keeps things in perspective when it comes to basketball,” Thacker said. “We have a special group of kids that we can be very proud of reaching a hand out to make Hunter feel like a part of team and coaching staff.”

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