Amanda Riley would have been a senior at Brookwood High School this year. She would have triumphed with the girls’ basketball team in winning the regional championship. She would have been an integral part of the cross-country team that came in second in the state. In some ways, she still was.
After battling cancer for a little more than a year, Amanda died on April 9. Her tenacious spirit inspired her teammates and high school peers, and it continues to.
“Amanda’s fighting spirit is a great inspiration to us,” said Scott Terry, head coach of the Brookwood girls’ basketball team. “Amanda is still with us and will always be in our hearts.”
At the beginning of the season, the team met to set goals. Doing well at the Deep South Classic and the regional championship were among priorities, but they also wanted to do something to remember Amanda. The team wore a patch with Amanda’s initials on their uniforms. In addition, Amanda’s locker remains intact in the team locker room.
“Honoring Amanda was at the top of the list,” Terry said.
Amanda’s teammate, Katie Mallow, who is heading to Appalachian State University on a basketball scholarship this fall, said that honoring Amanda meant remembering the reason they play the game.
“We play basketball because we love the game,” she said. “We don’t take our ability to play for granted. We play our best, but our number one goal should be to have fun – the word play is not just about playing the game.”
The team retired Amanda’s jersey at the beginning of the season, and the number 22 – Amanda’s number -- is etched into the team shirts. In addition, Mallow said, their senior shirt had five girls on the front while noting that there were five seniors on the court and one in their hearts.
“During all the big games, we wrote 22 on our wrists with a Sharpie as a reminder to play every game as if it’s your last,” Mallow added. “You never know. You could get hurt and tear up your knee and not be able to play. Anything could happen. We played every second as if we were about to be taken off the court.”
It also was very important to the team to make sure that Barbara and Steve Riley, Amanda’s parents, knew that their daughter was loved and remembered. Even after Amanda’s death, the Rileys still came to several of the games to support the team. Their daughter played with many of the girls for years.
“Basketball was such a huge part of our lives for so many years,” said Barbara Riley. “We still love the game. We still love the girls. They have been so supportive of us and Amanda.”
Coach Terry, she added, has been exceptional.
“The things he’s done to preserve Amanda’s memory continue to be amazing,” she said.
Amanda was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that strikes about 50 children a year who are treated through Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and has a survival rate of less than 30 percent, Barabra Riley said.
“If it relapses, the survival rate is zero,” she said.
To help children like their daughter, the Rileys began The Amanda Riley Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to help bring smiles to children battling cancer.
During Amanda’s cancer fight, the family learned of other children like her, but who were not receiving support. Items such as clothing and wigs were needed for many, Barbara Riley said.
“We want to put smiles on their faces while they are in the fight of their lives,” she said.
Brookwood art teacher Deb Sumpter designed a logo for the foundation that incorporates Amanda’s red Volkswagen along with the sun – "we always called Amanda our sunshine," Barbara said. The slogan, Bringing Smiles to Kids Battling Cancer, fits because Amanda was known for her smile.
To raise funds, the foundation has sold jewelry and T-shirts and held dinners at local restaurants. Upcoming events include a dinner on March 29 at O’Charley’s restaurant in Snellville, and a June 5K walk/run and one-mile fun run, Miles for Smiles. Brookwood High School cross country and track coaches Chris Carter and Kelly Sowers are helping plan the event.
The foundation is working with a social worker at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to identify children that need help. Barbara Riley said they then work to put together care packages for families.
“Sometimes when you go to the clinic, you’re sent to the hospital and you’re not prepared,” she said.
Other items the foundation would like to provide are books, crayons, journals, hand-held games and other items that would take a child’s mind off uncomfortable treatments like chemotherapy and blood transfusions. To help with these efforts, the nonprofit accepts in-kind items as well as monetary donations.
An accountant by trade, Riley put together a foundation “by the seat of my pants,” she said. She looked at other websites and talked to people who ran foundations, but the hard work has been worth it to her.
Amanda remains her mother’s inspiration.
“One thing that she learned and tried to make people understand is that when you have a healthy body, you have unlimited possibilities,” she said. “She always strived to be the best and gave 100 percent.”