Avery VanSickle has seen her father, Bryan, watch her play basketball hundreds of times growing up.
But it was his appearance at the Regis Jesuit junior guard’s game against Chaparral Feb. 4 that she cherishes the most.
Bryan VanSickle — who was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma on the opening day of Avery’s season with the Raiders — sat in a wheelchair and watched his daughter play the game he taught her how to play.
“They wheeled him in and sat him right there,” Avery VanSickle said Feb. 5 as she gestured to the raised balcony that looks out on the Regis Jesuit court.
“It gives more motivation and purpose, it’s not just another game,” she added. “You see your dad up in the stands and everything you’ve been through with him, you want to go out and make it the best show that he could watch or as proud as he could be.”
Using the skill set that she developed through many hours in the gym with her father — time she now calls “funny memories instead of bad ones,” even though the two sometimes butted heads — VanSickle poured in 14 points to help Regis Jesuit to a sweet 58-37 victory.
Despite the graduation of superstar dunking sensation Fran Belibi and without a player taller than 6 feet on the roster, coach Carl Mattei’s Raiders are 15-4 and share first place in the Continental League.
Avery VanSickle’s play is no small part, as she ranks second to senior Jada Moore in scoring (15.9 points per game), assists and steals.
It’s been a long journey for Bryan VanSickle to get to that first game for Avery, though he had been to a few for her freshman brother, Archer, who plays on the Regis Jesuit boys team.
It started back in December when Avery got a visit from her father at night with some serious news to break to her.
“I kind of had a feeling that something was going on because he had been sick, but that night he came into my room and I thought something was wrong, but I didn’t know what,” she said. “He hugged me and told me he loved me and I was like ‘Oh no.’”
The demands of diagnosis, visits to the doctor, MRIs and treatments have been a lot for Avery, her mother, Tami, and siblings, Archer, Quinn and McKay (who was away at college) to deal with, so they’ve leaned on each other as they lift up Bryan.
It’s made a close-knit family even closer.
“Through all the tough things that are happening, there’s been some really amazing things that have come out of it,” Avery said. “Sometimes we hide our emotions, but knowing we have each other and how close we are has made this so much easier.
“I couldn’t be more thankful for my family, I have the best family ever. It’s hard to show you.”
The VanSickle family has found it is far from alone in their battle.
Mattei and the Regis Jesuit team have been sending food or restaurant gift cards home and most importantly, raising Avery’s spirits. Teachers have allowed her to take classwork at her own pace and make up things that she may have missed, which has been a huge weight lifted.
It’s the things that those outside of her school community have done that truly have blown away Avery and her family.
“I feel like it brought so many people together in a way,” Avery said. “My dad impacted so many different kids and families and they really have showed their support through all of this. Whether it has been bringing food every night, giving us gift cards, taking him to the doctor or MRIs or whatever. It’s different people every day and it’s left me speechless.
“You see God in so many different people and different ways and it strengthens your faith.”
Avery’s club team — Hardwood Elite — surprised the family by putting together a GoFundMe page for the family that had raised $20,945 of its $25,000 goal in 11 days. Avery found out about it when she saw it on Twitter and it brought tears to her mother when she showed her how much money had been raised.
The support from the Continental League has also been remarkable. Fierce competitive oncourt rivalries have been put on hold for the sake of supporting one of its own.
ThunderRidge and Highlands Ranch played on Feb. 6 and dedicated their Pink Out Night to raising funds for the VanSickle family.
“It just shows there’s more to life than basketball,” said ThunderRidge coach Samantha Gilmore. “This family needs our help, regardless of if it’s a rivalry or who we play against. If we had the same situation here, I would think they would do the same. We’re competitive, but we support each other.”
On top of that, Heritage collected money to donate at its game against ThunderRidge Feb. 11 and Valor Christian announced on Twitter that its “Chuck a Duck” fundraiser Feb. 12 would also raise money for the VanSickles. Coach Jerry Knafelc and Arapahoe donated to the GoFundMe page as a team and also pledged to attend Regis Jesuit’s game at Castle View Feb. 11 to support.
Longtime Chaparral head coach Tony Speights doesn’t know Bryan VanSickle that well, other than from the summer basketball circuit, but felt compelled for his program to help.
“If you have played any amount of basketball, you’ve run across her dad or her sisters,” Speights said. “As a basketball community, I feel it’s important for us to reach out and let them know we support them. It’s bigger than us, bigger than basketball and there are times when people are just people and we need to support them in their time of need. It’s really an easy thing to do and doesn’t require a lot of thought.
“We can talk all the words, but we show it by our actions. That’s a good family and it’s really easy to support them.”
Moore and the Regis Jesuit team have been touched by what they see from their rivals.
“The love from the league has been amazing,” Moore said. “Everyone has been so supportive, whether it’s wearing pink for breast cancer awareness or raising money at their own games. Our league is pretty close to each other, so to see how much support and love her family has from the basketball community has been amazing.”
The support has made it easier for Avery to play the game of basketball, the thing that she and her father bonded over for the majority of her childhood.
“It’s my release from all my stress,” she said.
VanSickle said the worst part about her father’s condition is the “unknown,” but she is hoping to give him many more postseason games to come to and also plans to take as many of her visits to college programs in the spring so he can go with her.
“He’s obviously in pain, but to see so many people coming up to him (at the Chaparral game) and telling him how many people are praying for him just made his night knowing how many people care,” she said.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports