By Lori Yount
Just as he did almost 10 years ago, Victor Ellis is bringing the Red Bank High School's Class of 1998 together.
A group of alumni, some who hadn't seen each other since graduation, banded together to help raise money for Mr. Ellis' fight with a rare form of cancer at Red Bank's homecoming game Friday night.
"Victor was THAT guy in high school," said Jason Vandergriff, who traveled some weekends after high school to see Ellis play as a starting linebacker at the University of Alabama from 1998 to 2001.
"He didn't pick and choose a clique -- there was no discrimination at all who he hung out with," added Erin Thurman as she, Mr. Vandergriff and three other former classmates assessed the list of about 45 donations to give away at Friday's fundraiser.
After finding each other through MySpace.com, they've been working more than a month gathering the prizes, including a week-long trip to Destin, Fla. Although all lived in the Chattanooga area, they hadn't seen each other in about 10 years, and other friends are driving from out of town to meet up at the game.
"This will be the most meaningful class reunion," Ms. Thurman said.
Staff Photo by Patrick Smith
Red Bank High School Class of 1998 graduates, from left, Erin Thurman, Jason Vandergriff, Beth Reed, Brooke Case and Tamara Fairfax shuffle through donated items to be given away at Friday night's homecoming football game as a fundraiser for their fellow classmate, Victor Ellis. Mr. Ellis has been diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer, and the proceeds from the fundraiser will help pay for the medical bills.
They will reunite with Mr. Ellis too, who said he plans to watch his first Red Bank homecoming game since graduating from a car because he is undergoing chemotherapy and stays away from crowds to avoid infections.
He said in a phone interview Wednesday he received good news from his trip to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston last week -- tumors in his lungs and kidneys have shrunk. Mr. Ellis, 28, was diagnosed earlier this year with renal medullary carcinoma, a cancer only about 50 other people worldwide have.
Mr. Ellis was working in Charlotte as a student recruiter for the University of Alabama, but he returned to Chattanooga to be with his family and work part-time with the university once he was diagnosed. The money he receives from fundraisers, such as the one at Red Bank High and similar ones through the University of Alabama, he said helps his family with travel expenses to treatment in Houston.
If the chemotherapy doesn't work, Mr. Ellis said he will have to consider experimental treatments, but he maintains an optimistic outlook -- as his friends said is just like him.
"I can't tell you what the support of people means.... The support is what keeps me positive and a smile on my face," Mr. Ellis said. "I want to thank everyone for their support. I do believe I will be healed."
E-mail Lori Yount at firstname.lastname@example.org
If You Go:
What: Fighting 4 Victor+Y fundraiser
Where: Red Bank High School homecoming football game
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Cost: $5 flat donation to be entered in drawing
Mail donations to:
Fighting 4 Victor+Y
P.O. Box 72502
Chattanooga, TN 37407