A basketball game usually conjures up images of rivalry, the push and pull of each team striving to beat the other and take home the win. And while Friday night’s Whiting vs. Wheeler Township JV and varsity games were a typical night of basketball rivalry on the court, off the court, it was a night of honoring and encouraging Linda Armstrong, Washington Township Elementary School secretary, who is fighting colon cancer.
In honor of their beloved secretary who has been with the school for 37 years and taught many of the students piano, the basketball team wore special blue uniforms for the game. The dance team donned blue t-shirts, and the pep band festooned their area with streamers, all ready to show Armstrong just how much she was loved.
“She’s a very special lady and is loved by many. We wanted to show her how loved she is by this community,” said Tifani Boettcher, Kindergarten teacher at Washington Township Elementary.
Several students and teachers also planned a variety of fundraising events including a root beer float stand (an homage to Armstrong’s habit of treating her piano students to the tasty treat after lessons), with proceeds going to the Armstrong family to help with medical costs. The Key Club collected cash from attendees throughout both the JV and varsity games as well.
The dance team held a special dance clinic, donating the registration fees to Armstrong and the elementary students who participated in the clinic performed the routine they learned at the JV game’s half-time, providing cheer to those in attendance.
If the story were to stop there, it would be a pretty good story, but it goes on. When the Whiting Oilers team heard about Armstrong and the special events that were happening at the game, they decided to do something special for her as well.
The Oilers showed up in light blue shirts emblazoned with the word “hope” that they wore during warm-ups and presented Armstrong with a signed basketball. The Oiler team wanted to show their support, as their Athletic Director, Kelly Greer had recently lost her mother to colon cancer.
"My mother passed away from colon cancer just three months ago so when Washington Township’s Athletic Director, Tim Brunton, informed me about the event that was to take place, we really wanted to show Mrs. Armstrong our support in any way that we could," said Greer.
"Wearing blue warm-up shirts and giving her the ball was just a small token of our support, but hopefully an experience she will always remember. We really try to instill empathy and sportsmanship with all our athletes and it showed on Friday night. We have a great group of young men who we hope will grow into amazing husbands and fathers someday. "
As each starting player from both teams was announced, they went and gave Armstrong a hug. It was an amazing example of communal support, creating a positive and emotional night for the entire audience, especially Armstrong.
“I was totally overwhelmed. When they came in with their blue t-shirts with “hope” written on them I couldn’t believe their whole team did that. I knew that our team was going to wear blue uniforms but that just blew me away. The sportsmanship that they showed was unbelievable,” Armstrong said.
At halftime, a small presentation was given by athletic director Tim Brunton, honoring both Armstrong as well as Greer’s mother. Armstrong then addressed the crowd herself, her heart full of gratitude.
“I told them, ‘How can I lose? I have a gym full of warriors going to battle for me,’” she recalled.
The night was certainly an emotional occasion and a great reminder of how communities can come together for a noble cause.
“It was an emotional night,” said Brunton. “This was bigger than sports and it made me realize that this is what basketball should be, communities coming out and supporting their own.”
Armstrong’s life has touched hundreds of youth and seeing them support her and show her how much she is loved meant everything to her. She’s so thankful to both teams as well as her community for the continuing support they give.
“The support from this community has been unbelievable. The cards, the gifts, and the notes --they’ve kept me smiling,” Armstrong said. “Saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem like enough, but I don’t know what else to say. This is a great community. I’ve been overwhelmed and certainly appreciate all of the things that everybody has done.”