On Superhero Day, celebrated as part of Matoaca High School’s Spirit Week, the roughly 500 members of Team Justin cheered as they welcomed back the school’s very own hero.
Matoaca High students, teachers and staff members have rallied around Justin Yancey, a sophomore who was diagnosed with leukemia during the summer.
“It’s very surprising, but it’s good. It’s great,” Justin said of his fellow students’ response to his situation. While watching the students gather, he said he’d be able to see people he knew, and who supported charity. “It’s better than being stuck in a hospital.”
In August, the school was notified that Justin was diagnosed with leukemia, Office Manager Wanda Noland said. Noland, who’s worked at the school for 15 years, said she wanted to do something to help.
“I asked his mother, Kathleen Yancey, if it would be OK to order orange wristbands, which symbolize leukemia awareness, in support of Justin,” she says in a written statement. A family friend had already ordered some bands, and Kathleen Yancey suggested the school use the same bands, which said “Team Justin” on them, she says.
The Yancey family also suggested that the money raised by the sale of the bands be donated to ASK, the Association for the Support of Children with Cancer, a nonprofit organization that provides financial, social and emotional support to children with cancer and their families, Noland writes.
The faculty and staff paid to wear jeans, she said last week and that money helped offset the cost of the bands. The school ordered 500 bands and all of them were sold, raising more than $1,060 for ASK, Noland said.
“It’s been so easy,” she said of getting students involved in the effort. “They heard about it and they just picked it up. … It does your heart good to see it.”
Kathleen Yancey said Justin had been able to visit the school three times in recent months, and “he gets really excited when we come up here.”
“That’s actually kind of bad, when a student wants to come to school,” Justin said, smiling. He has two more rounds of chemotherapy, and he may be able to return to school in the spring.
“It’s been completely overwhelming, the support we’ve had through the school,” Kathleen Yancey said. “You need the support of everybody to get through this.”
Justin’s older brother, Matthew, recently graduated from Matoaca High and is now a student at Radford, she said.
“This school’s amazing,” she said. “The Warrior spirit is just amazing.”
“Somehow, problems bring this school together,” Justin said.
Eileen Statts, Justin’s guidance counselor, said the students come together to help those in need. “That’s the community spirit that just kind of gives you the shivers in your arms,” she said.
“I’m very proud of our students and their compassion for others.”
Ellen Yancey, Justin’s grandmother, said she’d been amazed by the school’s support, but also by the how supportive his parents’ employers have been. The worst part of the ordeal has been Justin’s isolation, she said.
“He really misses that camaraderie with people his age,” she said. Watching as Justin posed for pictures with his classmates, she said, “He’s just eating this up.”
Kathleen Yancey said the school is also planning a blood drive and talking about getting people on the bone marrow registry.
“These are amazing people,” she said.