Smith Academy wears orange to back student with leukemia
Bobby Gagne of Hatfield, front right, watches the state Division 3 boys basketball championship Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester. Gagne was diagnosed in July with leukemia and a large group of Smith students wore orange to support him.
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Bobby Gagne of Hatfield watches the state Division 3 boys basketball championship Saturday at the DCU Center in Worcester. Gagne was diagnosed in July with leukemia and a large group of Smith students wore orange to support him.
SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »
WORCESTER — Bobby Gagne was wearing orange in the front row of the student section at the DCU Center for the state basketball championship.
The Smith Academy students to his left wore orange. The fans behind him wore orange.
During the state Division 3 championship, the boys basketball team wore “I wear orange for Bobby” T-shirts. The Falcons have done it all season.
The school colors are purple and white, but for this year it’s orange.
Gagne, 16, was diagnosed with leukemia on July 18. He played junior varsity basketball last season, but could not play sports this season.
The treatment has “been pretty difficult but it’s starting to get easier,” Gagne said. “I had to go out to Boston every two weeks or so — now I only have to go out once a month. I pretty much take pills. It’s been a tough task but with all the support, its’ been really nice.”
The school and community have held fundraisers for Gagne and his family. His mother, Kelly Dunn, had to stop working to help Gagne. His father died in December.
“It’s pretty amazing how much they have supported me through this,” Gagne said.
Supporting him has been “incredibly important and not just for our team but for the community,” Smith Academy senior Mat Sulda said. “The fans were decked out in orange. The support we had for him and his family is incredible and it was another factor that inspired us throughout the season and it might have been the biggest one.”
Danvers beat Smith Academy 66-50 to win its second straight state title. The Falcons were in the state final for the first time since 1992.
Basketball is “a small picture in life compared to what he goes through,” said classmate Derek McMahon, who has been friends with Gagne since fifth grade. “It doesn’t compare. Losing a state championship basketball game and trying to understand the things he’s going through doesn’t even compare.”
It was not only the students who were attired in orange, but also many parents in the stands wore the color that brings awareness to the illness.
“The school is so small that one of the greatest things about the school is that everyone knows everyone. Everyone supports everyone,” Smith coach Matt Zerneri said. “They’re there for each other. When a tragedy like that happens, where a kid has to fight cancer, the kids do a great job. They care about him. They want to make sure it goes as easy as possible.”
Gagne expects to be cancer-free in November 2015. He also expects to play basketball next season.
“I have a long ways to go but I know I can make it through it,” he said.
NO MORE FREE TRIPS – Seaver Rickert went 3-for-6 from the free-throw line against Danvers. The senior center typically struggled from the line this year.
“I was excited I hit some foul shots. Those have been the demise of my entire year and I hate them with a passion,” Rickert said. “I’m glad I’ll never have to take those in a competitive sport again. I’m glad foul shots are out of my life.”
STATS – Sulda (11 points) hit double figures for the 15th straight game, and he was held to one 3-pointer for only the third time this season. He hit at least two 3s in every game except four. Sulda finished his career with 1,633 points.
MORE NUMBERS – South Hadley matched its lowest point total of the season in its 59-41 loss to Brighton in the state Division 2 final. The Tigers went 1-7 when they scored less than 49 points.
Smith Academy’s 50 points was its second lowest total this season. The 66 points allowed were the most this season by the Falcons.
BENCHES CLEARED – South Hadley and Smith Academy emptied their benches at the end of their games.
George Fiore, who has been injured, played in only his third game this season for the Tigers. He also played in the state semifinal victory over St. Bernard’s.
SENIORS – It was the final game for South Hadley seniors Evan Marcus, Fiore, Anthony Bullough and Kevin Garbacik.
Mike Molloy, Nat Hanson, Sulda and Rickert played their final games for Smith Academy.
“We had a great season,” Sulda said. “We did something Smith Academy hasn’t done in 21 years, which was win the western Mass. championship and make (it to the state final). We made great strides this year. I’m going to miss the players on the team. They are my brothers and my family.”