The MelStrong volleyball tournament on Saturday became more than just about one girl with cancer.
Melanie Wheeler, a sixth-grader from Galion Middle School, was diagnosed with four tumors in late October; her latest MRI indicated that she has three tumors in her brain and one in her spine. Since the news broke out, many people in the community felt prompted to hold several fundraisers for the family.
But during a meeting with the tournament’s coordinators, Wheeler’s father said it needed to be more than just about his daughter.
“Tom [Wheeler] told us that it is awesome that you want to do this for Melanie, but [he] sat down there at the hospital with other parents and it would be really nice if everybody was more aware of pediatric cancer,” said Michelle Swaim, one of the coordinators for the event.
Everyone agreed and turned the focus to make MelStrong be more about the awareness of pediatric cancer.
The volleyball tournament took place at the Galion High School gymnasium raising nearly $3,000. The proceeds will be split evenly between the Wheeler family and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital for pediatric cancer research.
“We asked the nurse a question at the hospital and she said unfortunately pediatric cancer is the most underfunded cancer, which absolutely shocked me,” Tom said. “I was sitting there thinking to myself, yeah it has to be because I have never thought about it ever.”
Needless to say, Tom is ecstatic that the MelStrong volleyball tournament is taking place.
One of bright spots of the day was Miss Mansfield’s Outstanding Teen 2016 Lauren Beard making a surprise visit to see Melanie.
“I am really excited to be here!” Beard said. “I heard her story and she is one of the toughest little girls I have ever met. I would have never guessed she has been through so much and I wanted to show my support for her.”
Melanie enjoyed the moment.
“I thought that it was really cool that she came because, well, I have never met a princess before,” Melanie said.
In addition to the bright spots of the day, Melanie’s team won the gold in their age group of the tournament and received shirts for being the champions.
“We are hoping to make this an annual event. To learn from this, grow, and get bigger and bigger to continue to support Melanie and Nationwide Children’s Hospital for pediatric cancer,” Swaim said.
Shirts are still available for $10. Images of the shirts will be available on the “#Melstrong – fight against Cancer” Facebook page. Those interested can contact tournament coordinator Kristi Hardy at 419-989-9649.
Connect with Klontz on Twitter at @KlontzPhoto.