November 18, 2017

Thoughts on Storm as season starts

Observer photo by Al Frey The CVU boys volleyball team's rallying cry this year is "Storm strong" in honor of a player, Storm Rushford, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Observer photo by Al Frey
The CVU boys volleyball team’s rallying cry this year is “Storm strong” in honor of a player, Storm Rushford, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Redhawks support volleyball team member after cancer diagnosis

By Lauren Read

Observer correspondent

The Champlain Valley boys volleyball team thought the toughest battle it would face this year would be defending the Division I state title.

Then, just weeks before preseason was set to start for the fall season, the Redhawks found that they would have a much harder fight on their hands.

At the end of July, the team’s center, Storm Rushford was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer that affects bone marrow and white blood cells.

Coach Jeff Boliba kicked his team into high gear, teaming with CVU baseball coach Tim Alberston to organize a t-shirt sale and a meal chain. He also gave the Redhawks a rallying cry: #stormstrong.

“We have five core values, and our fifth one is #stormstrong,” Boliba said. “One of the kids made rubber armbands. We are just keeping them on the top of our minds and helping out whenever we can.”

CVU added #stormstrong to its uniforms, and made it one of the team cheers — anything to let Rushford know that his team is with him.

“(Storm) went to tryouts, and he was very weak, but they were rallying around him, doing cheers” said Storm’s father, Matt Rushford. “It was really powerful for him.

“Having the team being so focused and invested in making sure he isn’t alone in this has been a very important part of this process.”

Boliba and Albertson, who coach Storm Rushford on both the varsity and SD Ireland Legion baseball teams, rallied both the volleyball and baseball communities to make sure the message was delivered.

“They got together on a Friday morning on a vacation day. There were 56 people who showed,” Storm’s mother, Julieta Rushford said. “They were all wearing the t-shirts, and I can’t tell you how much that meant to us.”

As the high school volleyball season gets underway, the Redhawks are making sure that Storm Rushford is a part of the team. He has a uniform, a spot on the roster as a student coordinator and the trust of a coaching staff asking him for observations.

“We have been trying to include him in any way I can,” Boliba said. “Even though we can’t have him on the court, that’s been fun to try and include him in things.”

That support has made a huge difference for the Rushfords as they deal with their new reality.

“They include him,” Julieta Rushford said. “That’s what gets him out of the house. I can’t tell you how much that means to me. He hasn’t been feeling well the last two days, but this morning, he got up and out of bed to go to volleyball practice.”

Julieta Rushford, who was a key figure in the development of volleyball at CVU and helped to create and coach the team at the middle school, has been touched by the way the community has rallied around the family.

“The support of the community has been holding us up,” she said. “We’ve had strangers drop off meals and people from all over pray for us, and it is making a difference. The gratitude that my husband and I feel is immense.

“I feel very, very lucky to live in this town.”

Storm Rushford hopes to return to the court for the Redhawks before the end of the season.

“We don’t really know what it is going to look like. He keeps talking about playing,” Matt Rushford said. “That’s a goal for him to get onto the court at some point. I don’t know if that is really realistic, but that’s where we are.”

No matter what role Storm Rushford plays for CVU this season, he will be in the team’s thoughts whenever they step on the court, with reminders on their uniform, on their wrists and on their t-shirts.

“I’ll save the #stormstrong cheer we do for key moments,” Boliba said.

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