MEDINA, Ohio - Hundreds of Medina High School “Battling Bees” traded their team colors of green and white for bright, royal-blue t-shirts at Tuesday night's basketball game against Maple Heights.
The donated tees were emblazoned with a fist and the words “Sierra Strong” in honor of their classmate 17-year-old Sierra Bland, who passed away from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and was buried Monday.
“I hope she’s looking down smiling,” said Anita Hunter, a neighbor and family friend who babysat Sierra when she young.
Hunter says the event was originally planned as a pre-game rally for Sierra and her family to show them strong community support, but after the high school junior died it became a memorial with a solemn moment of silence before tip-off.
“I mean there are no words to describe how anybody feels about this,” said Hunter while choking back tears.
ALS is extremely rare in children and Hunter says it seemed to progress quickly with Sierra, who had been hospitalized for the last 7 months and passed away within a year of her diagnosis.
But despite the pain, friends say Sierra always remained positive.
Neighbor and classmate Kelsey Hunter said, “She was a very sweet girl, she was the type of girl who always saw the bright side of things.”
Another adult neighbor and mom, Erica Melcher, had tears welling up in her eyes as she remembered Sierra as, “The most energetic young lady I’ve ever met in my life.”
Sierra’s parents and younger sister were understandably still too devastated to attend the game, but have seen and been touched by some of the other tributes including blue lights twinkling at the Columbus Zoo and along their neighborhood streets.
The family has asked for donations to help with ALS research and the Make A Wish Foundation, while friends have set up a GoFundMe account to assist with the extensive medical and funeral expenses.