MOUNTAIN HOME – The Mountain Home High School gymnasium was a sea of orange on Thursday, January 16 at the girls’ varsity basketball game. Students, faculty and community members packed the gym to raise money for 16-year-old Jessica Mespelt, a sophomore recently diagnosed with leukemia.
The news would be devastating for any family, but for the Mespelts, it was another hit to the gut as Jessica also has down syndrome.
But according to her twin sister Autumn, that has never stopped her from being happy.
“Jessica is the one that is always smiling,” Autumn said.
Though many of the students didn’t know Jessica before her diagnosis, Autumn said the school has since rallied around her.
“We had six teenaged boys show up to the house after school right after we found out,” Autumn said. “They helped move furniture, disinfect and sanitize her room. These are teenaged boys who didn’t have to help, but they did.”
Though the school had already planned the “orange out” in advance (Mountain Home’s colors are black and orange), they decided to dedicate the night to Jessica and her fight against leukemia, which was discovered only a week earlier. Ironically, the color orange is also used in conjunction with leukemia awareness.
All around the school, orange posters adorned the white walls, offering words of support:
“Mountain Home supports Jessica” and “You can beat this Jessica!”
Several student clubs, including NHS (National Honors Society}, FCCLA (Family Career Community Leaders of America) and the French club, sold bracelets, T-shirts, raffle tickets, Italian sodas and cans of ‘Orange Crush’ at the game, with all proceeds going to Jessica’s medical expenses.
In all, athletic director Mark Cotton said the event raised over $1,000.
Before the game, Jessica, via Skype from her hospital room, gave the Lady Tigers a pep talk.
“Do your best,” Jessica said. “Play a good game. Go Tigers!”
The tears were hard to see through the spotty connection, but the trembling in the players’ voices was hard to escape.
“We just wanted to let you know this game is for you,” said senior Taylor Reed. “We’ll get through this and all of us are rooting for you and we’re going to fight with you.”
The crowd was electric throughout the first half, antsy with anticipation of what halftime would bring.
Jessica was again Skyped in from her hospital room, and shown a panoramic view of the crowd.
Students stood up on the bleachers, hoping to catch a glimpse of Jessica smiling.
After her family was presented with an ‘Afghan of Hope,’ the student section erupted in cheers. The “I believe that we will win” chant broke out near the end of the halftime Skype call. The deafening noise wasn’t enough to stop the tears from flowing, from both sides of the gym.
“I love you Jessica,” Autumn said as she blew a kiss to the computer screen.
Though visibly shy, Jessica did give the crowd another “Go Tigers!” before being disconnected.
Jessica will undergo treatment for the next two years.
To see a photo gallery of the event, click here.