Hailey Limoges was determined to keep her spot on the cheerleading squad at Centennial Middle School. Even if the 12-year-old was battling stage 3 ovarian cancer.
So Hailey, who was diagnosed in April, filmed a tryout tape while she was undergoing treatment at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.
"She made the team again," said Centennial Middle cheerleading coach Becky Maxwell, beaming with pride.
The school has rallied around Hailey, a seventh-grader. Her fight especially hit home with Shane Salyer, 12, a sixth-grader at Centennial Middle who had been in remission for two years after battling a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The moment he heard about Hailey's diagnosis, Shane started organizing fundraisers for her.
"He's a very giving person," Centennial teacher Martha Pekarek said. "And she would have done the same for him. She has a huge heart."
Then in early May, Shane learned his lymphoma had returned. Now he's back at Tampa General Hospital for treatment.
And the fundraising effort to help one Centennial Middle kid with cancer has grown to help two.
The staff and students have organized a June 14 fish fry to raise money for Hailey's and Shane's medical costs. Various student clubs are selling tickets and have volunteered to help run the event.
"These are our kids too. We see them every day at the school," said Cpl. Scott Raymer, the school resource officer at Centennial Middle. He also works with Hailey's father, Lorenzo "Emile" Limoges, who is a detention deputy at the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
"As a police officer I have the weapons to fight the bad guys, but I can't fight cancer," Raymer said. "I can't go and beat up cancer for these kids."
Both families have close ties to the community.
Shane's mother, Cheryl, is a full-time exceptional student education teacher at Centennial; she is on leave to care for Shane. His father, David, works at Plastipak. The couple has an older son, Ryan.
Hailey's mother, Julie Harrelson, works for Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel. Hailey has a twin sister, Hannah, who is also on the Centennial Middle cheerleading team.
"When I found out that my sister had cancer, it was really hard," Hannah said. "But she's really strong. She keeps saying that nothing else bad is going to happen. She's a fighter."
Hailey returned to the school for a recent meeting with the cheerleading team. Her teammates met her with hugs and cheers. Shane's classmates have been able to communicate with him through Internet "face time" sessions.
"We could tell he was fighting," said Mackenzie Green, 12. "A lot of people around here want to help."
In addition to helping plan the fish fry, guidance counselors Susan Larkin-Douberley and Susan Sesker have been talking to students who have questions and concerns about their classmates' conditions.
"The kids come to us, we share, and we talk," Larkin-Douberley said. "This is the scariest thing."
But they continue to draw strength from the brave example of both kids. Shane is a longtime performer at Arts in Motion, a local youth theater group. This spring Shane played the role of Eugene in the group's production of Grease. He performed his final show the night that he went into the hospital to undergo surgery and begin his treatments.
"He's so talented and brings so much to every role," AIM board member Kris Cloversettle said. "We want him back on our stage soon."
Members of the theater group are selling hope bracelets engraved with Shane's name to help raise money for his treatments.
Centennial Middle principal Jim Lane is proud of his community's joint effort to help his two students.
"It is miraculous the way that the staff and the community have pulled together to go above and beyond for these kids," he said. "It's phenomenal."
After Shane's first bout with lymphoma, he became heavily involved in the annual Relay for Life fundraisers that support the American Cancer Society. Centennial Middle teacher Jeannie McDougall still thinks about the inspirational speech Shane gave March 23, less than two months before he learned his cancer had returned.
"His heartfelt words went well beyond his years," she said in a prepared statement. "He encouraged all of the survivors to fight through the storm and not crawl in a corner and let it win.
"He told them that this fight was not about waiting for the storm to pass but dancing in the rain."