Baseball season is always a big deal at South View High School.
The late Calvin Koonce, member of the 1969 World Champion New York Mets, used to coach there, and the Tiger field shares his name.
The late Randy Ledford guided the Tigers to a state 4-A championship in 1991.
Yes, baseball is important for the Tigers, but this season, the game has taken a back seat to something even bigger.
This year, the Tigers are playing for a teammate and his mom.
Keyla Reece, who just turned 40 in February, learned last summer she has stage four breast cancer. Since that diagnosis, her world has been turned upside down with regular trips to Chapel Hill for chemotherapy while still trying to work and juggle family responsibilities.
But she’s not doing it alone. The mothers of her son Tylan Reece’s South View baseball teammates, along with the players themselves, have rallied around Keyla and her family to let them know this is not a battle she’s fighting by herself.
One of the moms is Elizabeth Person, who along with her fellow team mothers learned last year of the struggles Keyla is facing.
“My mom and aunt had breast cancer, and I had a couple of scares myself,” Person said. “We want to be there for her.”
As a gesture of support, T-shirts were made for the mothers to wear.
The team followed suit, with most of the seniors donning pink baseball cleats. Those who didn’t buy the cleats purchased pink shoelaces to wear at games.
“Most of the moms have been together at least through high school,’’ Person said, “some of them middle school before that and played a lot of travel ball.
“We wanted this to be a time of happiness for Tylan. This is his senior year, when things are supposed to be great. Anything we can do to grab hold and love on them, we’re a very close family.’’
Keyla has remained positive in the face of her struggle and is doing all she can to make sure her son gets the most enjoyment possible from his senior season with the Tigers without worrying about her health.
She’s told her son to use her struggle with cancer as a source of motivation when he’s on the field.
“When you go out there and get up to bat, you hit that ball like you’re hitting the cancer cells,’’ she said. “Every time you catch that ball, you catch it as if you’re blocking the bad cells from coming into my body. When you’re running from base to base, act like you’re chasing those cells away.’’
Tylan has taken his mom’s advice to heart and is further buoyed by the support both he and she get from his teammates. “They text me, they text my mom, they ask if I’m okay,’’ he said. “They come to my house to surprise me. They go above and beyond to make sure I’m okay.”
South View baseball coach Scott Ellis said the team rallying around the Reece family has given them a sense of what’s truly important in life.
“This is way bigger than baseball, bigger than the game,’’ Ellis said. “Tylan has a good support system with this team."
“This is a good place to escape, I think. Baseball has been a tremendous escape not just for Tylan but his mom and dad. They’re able to see him perform and forget about a few things when they see him play.’’
Jordan Bullard, who starts in the infield with Reece, stressed the same theme Ellis does. “We’re making sure his head is up, even on the sad days,’’ he said. “She’s a fighter, she’s always been a fighter, and she’s going to beat it.
“We’ve got his back. It’s like one big family. If one person is going through it, we’re all going through it.’’
The team is planning to hold a special event to recognize Mrs. Reece and her family at its home game with Pine Forest on April 12.
But she’s already deeply appreciative of everything the players, the other moms and the South View community have done for her.
The biggest word is thank you,’’ she said. “There is no way we could have done this alone. We never imagined the outpouring of love and support we were going to receive from the South View team itself, which is something important.
“When you go through cancer, your life changes drastically. Nothing is ever the same. You have a hectic schedule as it is, and you deal with everyday life trying to be a mom. “To have them be so supportive means the world.’’
Photos: Keyla Reece and Tylan Reece