Ella Margraf clutched her mother Erin’s arm as members of the Delaware Hayes girls basketball team approached her with flowers on Friday night before the Pacers’ 65-36 loss to Westerville South in OCC-Capital Division play.
It was a moment that encapsulated just how difficult the last four months have been.
Ella was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a rare, aggressive B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma on Oct. 4.
The diagnosis led Erin Margraf, who went 75-73 from 2006-13, to take of leave of absence before she could begin her second stint as coach.
The Margraf’s got an early Christmas present when Ella was declared in remission on Dec. 21. Scans following her final round of treatment in early January confirmed that she was cancer free.
“It feels good to be almost back,” coach Margraf said. “We’re getting back into the swing of things. We’re able to come to some basketball games and cheer for our team that we want to support so badly. We want the girls to see that we’re here to support them. This is a break for right now, but I will be back.”
Friday night served as what coach Margraf hopes “closes a chapter.”
“With her remission and talking about coming back to school for both of us and getting back to activities – we’re able to close one chapter and open up another chapter and go back to our normal lives,” Erin Margraf said.
On one table, entering the cafeteria, was an Ella’s Fight Club banner full of signatures while another table was full of pamphlets and information on lymphoma.
The walls, both inside and outside of the gym, were lined with posters to encourage Ella and her fight.
The Pacers warmed up in the Ella’s Fight Club t-shirts they had worn early in the season and players from both teams wore green hair with Westerville South another in a long line of opponents that have shown support.
“This is definitely something that we want to do every year. We want to raise awareness – not just for lymphoma, but for other cancers,” Erin Margraf said.
The Pacers hung tough with the Wildcats, trailing 40-27 in the third quarter — a far cry from the 77-15 decision when the two meet the first time on Dec. 16 in Westerville.
“The energy in the gym was just completely different,” said forward Porter Barickman, one of two seniors on the team along with Samantha Toney. “We’re so proud of Ella for beating cancer. It’s (been) a tough thing on her entire family. It meant a lot having her here.”
Against South, Barickman made her first start since returning from a knee injury that cost her the first 15 games of the season.
Delaware entered the season coming off its first district final appearance in 30 years. But last year’s team was senior-laden. Assistant coach Chelsie Burden is the only holdover from last year’s coaching staff, sharing duties this season with Aric Tucker and Mark Thomas with Tucker taking the lead on game days.
“This has all been about making things easier for them,” Tucker said. “They had enough to worry about.”
The Pacers, who are 5-15 overall after a 59-48 loss to Bellefontaine on Saturday, are young with freshman Adrionna Brown running the point.
Toney and Brown had 10 points apiece against South, which was led by Tamara Ortiz with 25 points. Zoe Guice had 14 points and Leila Jones added 11.
“I think it helped our girls to see Ella,” Tucker said. “We played well in the first half. It’s been difficult for the girls … but I think they’ve adjusted very well. Sam, as a senior, carried us in the first half of the season and (Brown) has picked things up since then.”
Brown led the Pacers with 16 points against Bellefontaine, Toney had 13 points and Barickman added nine points.
Delaware closes the regular season at Dublin Scioto on Tuesday and at Canal Winchester on Friday.
Ella is scheduled to have her port removed on Feb. 14, one final procedure before she’s able to return to school.
Erin is hopeful that if all goes well and she gets the green light from human resources, she’ll be able to coach when Delaware, seeded 42nd, travels to fifth-seeded South in the first round of the Division I district tournament on Feb. 15.
“It was really hard adjusting to new coaches,” Brown said. “It was a hard transition, (but) hopefully (coach Margraf) will back be back sooner than later. That’ll be a big step for us.”