This column appeared in The Japan Times in November 2012.

89ers lend support to S. Dakota teen battling cancer

By Ed Odeven

The Sendai 89ers are lending a helping hand to a 17-year-old South Dakota student’s fight against cancer.

Halfway around the world, Conrad Adam, a high school basketball player, has his own team of supporters, the 89ers. In fact, they are part of a larger throng affectionately known as Conrad’s Clan, including Sendai big man Sam Willard, who attended T.F. Riggs High in Pierre, South Dakota, where Adam is a student.

Adam’s left leg was amputated above the knee in October at Mayo St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, and he now has a prosthetic. It’s a major life-altering experience for anyone, especially for someone filled with youthful vigor. Going through chemotherapy sessions can be a daunting task for anyone, but the encouragement from Conrad’s Clan has given him a big boost.

“Conrad has a journal online that he posts updates on that give people an idea of how he is doing,” Willard told Hoop Scoop. “That’s how I keep up with how he’s doing. I’m also in contact with my (former) basketball coach (Terry Becker) and he has told me that Conrad’s good attitude continues to amaze everyone each day. From what he’s posted, you can tell that he is being very positive through this extremely tough situation and his attitude is amazing.

“He is still going through treatment right now, and his spirits are high, (so) all we can do is hope that his health continues to improve.”

The 89ers (3-7), who travel to face the Gunma Crane Thunders this weekend, are having a difficult season. But, to their credit, they haven’t lost sight of the impact sports can have on people’s lives, as well as communities near and far.

“Sam recently autographed a jersey and sent it back to be auctioned off to help raise money for Conrad,” 89ers coach Bob Pierce said, illustrating that point.

Every dollar can help as medical bills pile up for the Adam family.

Willard, who turned pro in 2011 after averaging a team-best 14.8 points and 10.5 rebounds as a college senior for the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, is reminded every day to take nothing for granted.

“Hearing about (Adam’s battle with cancer) had an affect on me, because it makes you realize just how lucky we really are to be able to do this every day,” the 205-cm Willard said about his chosen profession. “No matter how bad things may be, they could always be worse.

“I don’t know if me playing inspires Conrad or his family, but I will say that his strength inspires me and a lot of other people. It takes a lot of strength and fight to be able to handle something like this, and I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like for them every day. I just hope that what little I can do does help, because just seeing a 17-year-old kid show as much courage as him has already helped me.”

Fittingly, the 24-year-old Willard made those remarks just a few days before Thanksgiving. And Adam’s story illustrates how important community involvement is in any society.

Pictures are powerful symbols of every imaginable human emotion, and the 89ers recognized the value of a group photo as a symbol of solidarity for Adam. The team posed for a photograph with all of them wearing white wrists bands with the message “Conrad’s Clan: No One Fights Alone” and posted it on a Facebook book dedicated to Adam.

Perhaps that photograph will also inspire others to give support to those battling illnesses, athletes and citizens in all walks of life.

“My role in all of this is that I support Conrad,” Willard explained. “There are many other people that have done more important things for him than I have. I am just doing whatever I can to help. There has been support from all over, especially in the Pierre community. The people have really taken it upon themselves to show their support for Conrad and his family.”

Adam’s high school friends established Conrad’s Clan during the summer, and those $2 wrist bands (with the sales money going directly to the Adam family) have been a win-win item.

“Conrad’s Clan says that many wrist bands have been ordered from high school basketball players across the state,” reported The Capital Journal, a South Dakota newspaper. “The reach of the group hasn’t stopped in South Dakota, people from Pennsylvania and even Florida have shown support.”

What’s more, that support has continued to spread around the United States. Exhibit A: Swimming legend Michael Phelps autographed a Conrad’s Clan bracelet in New Orleans.

Full column: 89ers lend support to S. Dakota teen battling cancer | The Japan Times