Sometimes all it takes is one small act of kindness to bring a tight-knit, grieving community even closer.
Nooksack Valley girls' basketball senior Morgan Perry was distraught after learning longtime Everson Police Chief Erik Ramstead had died of cancer on Jan. 15.
Perry, like many in Everson, was close to the chief, who served the community for 28 years.
The Northwest Conference has held its annual Coaches vs. Cancer event the past five years. During a two-day span, every boys' and girls' basketball team invites a cancer survivor or a relative of someone who has died of the disease to join them on the bench. Money raised during games played in Whatcom County is donated to the St. Josephs Cancer Center in Bellingham. Money raised in Skagit County is given to United General Hospital or Skagit Valley Hospital.
Over $30,000 was raised during the first four years of the event.
Once Perry knew that Lauren Ramstead, who's the younger of Erik's two daughters, was serving as the Pioneers' honorary coach during Nooksack Valley's game against Sehome Thursday, Jan. 24, she immediately wanted to do something extra to help the Ramsteads.
"I thought we should do something special for the team," Perry said. "Lauren is a good friend of mine, and we wanted to show her our support. Normally a team will wear a shirt or pink socks. I thought we may as well get shooting shirts, but we shouldn't limit it to just the team. We should ask the audience, too."
That's when Perry began devising her plan with fellow senior McKinna Larson.
Thursday, Jan. 17, Perry was in her third-period class when she and Larson came up with the idea to buy 355 pink shirts reading "Hail to the Chief" on the front and "Chief Ramstead" on the back.
The two planned to sell the shirts and give all funds raised to the Ramsteads to help with memorial service costs.
Perry and Larson quickly set up a Facebook event page stating their benefit.
The response was immediate.
"Within 24 hours, we had 180 shirts sold," Perry said.
A few days later, Perry contacted her friend Rachel Albert - a senior on Sehome's basketball team.
"She said that Chief Ramstead had recently passed away and that she and McKinna Larson were putting an idea together to make a bunch of shirts through Cloud 9," Albert said in a phone interview. "She was asking me if my team would be interested in wearing the shooting shirts before the game to honor Chief Ramstead."
Even though Sehome was honoring sophomore softball player Morgan Henry, who won her 21/2-year battle with leukemia after being diagnosed at age 4, Albert and Mariners coach Kim Kirk loved Perry's idea.
"It's a reminder that there is more to life than just basketball," Kirk said in a phone interview.
Sehome surprised Perry by wearing the shooting shirts at both the JV and varsity game.
"Rachel is a good friend of mine," Perry said. "It was really great of her. She said she would talk to her coach and said it was a really good idea. Then her coach emailed me the next day. I thought it was great that both JV and varsity was able to wear them. It shows that even though it's Sehome and we're supposed to be rivals or whatever, we can come together."
Nearly three-fourths of the estimated 300 people in attendance donned a "Hail to the Chief" T-shirt on Thursday. Men, women, small kids, teens - everyone showed their support for their beloved police chief.
Perry said she was worried whether all 355 shirts would sell, because only double extra larges and triple extra larges were left by game day, but the Everson community erased Perry's doubt before the varsity game started.
"I was really surprised that we sold all the T-shirts," Perry said. "Then we got here and were like, 'We should have bought more T-shirts.' ... It was incredible."
Lauren addressed the crowd at halftime. Her speech provided a sobering and emotional break to an intense game.
"Cancer took away a lot from my family, but I have this place, and I have these people, and cancer can't take that away," Lauren said as she struggled to fight back tears.
Lauren thanked the community for its support during the difficult last week and a half, as Nooksack Valley senior guard Kaycee DeBruin comforted her while she spoke.
"I just wanted to thank the community on behalf of my mom and sister," Lauren said. "We really felt the big community help around us this past week, and we really appreciate it."
Perry considered the night a success and was glad to help close family friends in need.
"It just shows how close we are," she said. "It's a small community, so it's really not that hard to get people to come out, but even kids at the school that didn't know him were immediately like, 'Yeah, I want a shirt. Put me down. It doesn't matter who it is. I'm wearing it for you guys.' It just shows how close-knit we are as a team and as a community."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862.
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.