By: Seth Kinker, firstname.lastname@example.org
On Dec. 14, Chelsea held Champions Night to kick off the season opener for the Chelsea Boys Basketball team as well as the conference opener for the Boys and Chelsea Girls Basketball teams against the Pinckney Pirates.
Champions Night celebrates the past year’s champion winning athletic teams, with each team being honored between the basketball games, but the real story from that night comes from off the court.
Both teams in the boys and girls games wore warm up shirts with an orange ribbon on the front and the name Cooper on the back. Money was collected via donation, t-shirt sales, and orange wristband sales throughout both games with announcements at halftimes highlighting the battle against leukemia and in support of Jan Cooper.
In 2015, Jan Cooper, mother of 2017 Chelsea high school graduate Cam Cooper, was diagnosed with leukemia.
“The first time I was laying in my room waking up and my parents came in and sat on my bed a gave me the news,” said Cam. “After that I remember standing up and breaking down in tears on my bedroom floor.”
After hospitalization, chemotherapy treatments, and a blood transfusion, she beat it. But it came back, and she was re-diagnosed in September of this year.
“The second time I was at school and had just got through fall camp, my parents came up the week before school started and helped me move in to my apartment and before they left they sat me down and told me that the doctors are going to do some blood tests on her because they thought that she either had leukemia again or a virus,” said Cam. “I remember going homethat next weekend and they sat me down at the dinner table and I broke down on the living room floor in tears again after they said it was leukemia.”
Through Bulldog Boys basketball head coach Josh Tropea’s relationship with Cam, a fundraiser was set up on Dec. 14, with all proceeds going to the Cooper family.
Cam was part of the first class Tropea coached when he first came to Chelsea in 2014. Initially, Tropea got to know him casually that summer as Cam was heavily involved with football, going to be playing varsity as a sophomore.
“Dynamic personality,” said Tropea about Cam. “The type of kid whose smile would light up a room. He loved to compete, that kind of kid, you want to be around him. Everybody does, that’s the type of kid he is. He made varsity as a sophomore for me, running the point a lot with then senior Cam Starkey coming off a tough football injury. I think we were close too because our personalities were a lot alike, pretty competitive guys, both of us. And we both loved being around a team. That’s why I coach. Cam’s biggest strength? He’s a great teammate.”
Their relationship grew that summer when Cam was injured the first game of summer league ball. On a fast break, Cam went to spin with one defender in front of him, but his foot got lodged between the defenders. He tore some ligaments in his ankle, fracturing it and sidelining him for the rest of the summer.
“With him being hurt he still kept coming to things,” said Tropea on where he saw their relationship grow. “Most kids would bail out in the summer, even though he couldn’t play, here he is all summer while trying to heal up for football, still coming and being a part of things. I know it sounds silly but that’s when we became even closer because were sitting on the bench talking and he’s used to hearing me as a coach, now it a different type of relationship.”
“I think it was because at that time I was kind of looked at as someone he could talk to get a sense on how the guys and the team were thinking because I was close with my teammates obviously as a player,” agreed Cam. “But I had to play a different role when I got hurt. I felt like I was the middle ground for coach to discuss his thoughts with me and get my feedback, while my teammates could do the same with me as well.”
Before Cam’s junior year, Jan needed her first bone marrow transplant, which was when Tropea first learned how sick Jan was.
“We were up at Sounds and Sights on a Thursday. They had a big thing for her on main street,” said Tropea, recounting all the players and coaches Cam played with or under in attendance. “Just all the coaches and players who had been a part of his life, it was great. The Coopers, I don’t want to say they’re a big deal in town, but they are. They mean a lot to a lot of families
and Cam is that kid, if he’s been a part of your life as a teacher or coach, he’s important.”
Fast forward to this Fall and Tropea had heard about Jan being diagnosed once again.
“Cam and I have stayed close throughout him being at Butler last year and this year. When I found out Jan was back the hospital, I knew Cam would be around,” said Tropea. “He came back for the alumni basketball game at Thanksgiving and that’s when I ran it past him and said, ‘I’d really like to do this for your mom and dad.’ I wanted his and his dad’s blessing. His mom being the incredible person that she is, didn’t want the attention on her, she wanted the awareness of the battle (against leukemia).”
“The culture and an emphasis on family at Chelsea is very important. It’s a tight-knit community that’s extremely supportive during rough times,” said Cam. “The faculty and staff do a very good job creating and implementing this type of culture because they don’t just talk about it, they do stuff about it.”
“Tropea and I have a very close relationship and all throughout high school he always checked on me and did everything in his power to let me know he’s there for me and my family,” added Cam. “Really this fundraiser happened because of him. He talked to me about the idea when I was back home during Thanksgiving break and then he put it together. I am extremely grateful for the relationship I have with him and the Tropea family, and extremely grateful for all my teachers, coaches and classmates at Chelsea high school.”
On Dec. 14, Cam was able to drive back after his bowl game practice, Western Michigan football faces Brigham Young University on Dec. 21 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Idaho.
“It’s overwhelming each time,” said Cam. “From back during my junior year during football season when the community wore orange in support of her to a game Friday night it’s just overwhelming, but in the best way possible. It truly shows how supportive our community is and it’s the type of support that keeps my family going and most importantly my mom. I will forever be beyond grateful for what Chelsea has done for us.”
“I’ll be the first to admit my first 10-12 years as a high school coach, I focused probably way too much on winning, happens to us all, but I’ll tell you, I had some things happen,” added Tropea. “As you get older you have your own kids you realize you have a platform where you can make a difference in people’s lives and you want to try and use that as much as you can in a positive way. I don’t always succeed, and we don’t always succeed as coaches. Things like the other night, those are opportunities to do the right thing by kids you care about and their families.