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Without Kayla, the Eagles lost by 15.

“That might’ve been on the back of a lot of people’s minds during the game,” Strack said. “I mean, I love basketball and I’ll be the first to admit that, but it doesn’t last forever.”

The following evening, Corkery and assistant coach Danielle Hemerka visited Kayla in the hospital. They laid an AU blanket on her bed and shuffled through the crowd of friends and family members who had also come to support Kayla and her family. There weren’t many words. Just hugs, tears and prayers.

“You can’t even compare the two,” Corkery said, shaking his head. “You can’t compare losing a basketball game to what she was going through.”

Kayla died in the early morning hours of March 8.

The team heard the news when it showed up for practice. Counselors were on hand and, as Corkery put it, “tears were in the room.” George thought of how Kayla used to make her smile. Strack thought of her wit. A half-hour later, practice started.

The team attended Kayla’s funeral later that week. Thirteen players and coaches registered in May for the Race for Hope, a charity walk benefiting the National Brain Tumor Society and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure. The team in her honor, Kisses4Kayla, raised $83,490.

“I feel like we’ve formed a strong connection with them that didn’t end when we lost Kayla,” said Eric Wenger. “I think that we all feel like we want to keep working together to honor her memory and keep that connection alive.”


On a late spring morning, raindrops pitter-pattered against the window of Corkery’s office. He looked at the frame across the room and thought of Kayla. All along his goal had been to do something for someone who would never be able to repay him. Now he realizes that the benefits went both ways.

“Nobody could’ve impacted our team in the way that Kayla did,” he said. “She was just the perfect person, at the perfect place, at the perfect time.”

The Eagles never lost when Kayla was at the game.

And she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

• To make a donation to the Collaborative Ependymoma Research Network in Kayla’s name, visit .