Riley Simmons finally has the pièce de résistance for her soccer-themed bedroom makeover, and she found it in the oddest of places – the library.
Simmons was presented with an oversized check worth $7,054 by head coach Justin Coenenberg, members of Manteca High’s administrative staff and the captains of the varsity girls soccer team on Thursday in the Manteca High library.
When asked if she’d ever seen a check that big, the 9-year-old fourth grader at Colony Oak Elementary School paused.
“… Only in the movies,” said Simmons, whose courageous battle with brain cancer has captivated an entire region. “It’s huge.”
The money was raised during Manteca High’s annual “Kicking for a Cure” game, a 2-1 victory over Sonora High on April 19. The team sold T-shirts and sweaters, hosted a silent auction that included a soccer ball signed by U.S. National Team goalie Hope Solo and a raffle, and collected donations.
“It’s so hard to put into words. The support will allow us to keep our focus where it belongs, which is taking care of Riley,” her father Rick Simmons said. “It’s just very moving.
“The one thing I’ve come to realize is that you never expect something like this,” he later added, “but it gives you a new perspective. … It reminds you just how wonderful people are.”
Initially, Coenenberg had hoped to raise $5,000 for the Simmons’ trust fund. The program donated nearly $8,000 to the American Cancer Association during the first two years of the charity game.
“I’m extremely happy with how everything turned out. Our goal was to break the $5,000 mark,” Coenenberg said. “When that came, I was just overwhelmed with the generosity and how everyone rallied around her and the family.”
Manteca High senior captains Sialei Manuleleua and Sammie Morris held the check for Simmons, who pointed in amazement at her new keepsake as she posed for pictures.
Her grandfather, Kurt Hodges, was behind the camera.
“She’s always smiling,” he said. “It keeps everyone’s spirits up.”
Simmons had emergency surgery to remove a large tumor that had formed between her cerebellum and brain stem on Dec. 4.
Treatment began immediately with weekly concurrent rounds of chemotherapy and radiation at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center.
She’s currently undergoing a nine-cycle chemotherapy-only program, and is scheduled for her third treatment on Wednesday.
“One-third of the way closer to the finish,” Rick Simmons said.
If not for her bald head – she has only a small tuft of hair along her neck line – and slight speech impediment, you’d never know the younger Simmons was sick.
She owned the stage in the library. At one point, she disappeared behind the check, poking her head over the top for the picture-takers.
“It rubs off on you,” Manuleleua said. “Her energy, it’s so contagious. I’m so happy our fundraising could bring out the smile in her.”
For Coenenberg, the fundraiser satisfied two personal ambitions: 1) he wanted to help a local family in need; and 2) he wanted to give his team a purpose greater than goals, wins and championships.
“The money will help them out,” said Coenenberg, who credited Kathy Ruble, Sandra Reeder, Natalie Rosas, Deanna Diggs, Wilma Gonsalez and Stephanie Hjelmstad with the fundraiser’s success. “But … Riley had a chance to hang out with us and it was an inspiration to our team.”
With the cardboard check folded awkwardly in the back of the car, Simmons, wearing a green baseball cap, knew just where to “deposit” it.
She’s in the midst of a complete bedroom makeover. The theme for her décor centers on the “The Beautiful Game” – her ultimate passion. Simmons is a member of the Manteca Futbol Club’s under-9 soccer team.
The check – drawn by Morris, Manteca High’s all-time leading scorer – will fit nicely on her bedroom’s focal wall.
“I’m going to hang it on the wall,” Simmons said, “so that I can see it all the time.”
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