The Illinois High School Association is proud to announce that its nominee for the 2018-19 National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Spirit of Sport Award is O’Fallon High School senior Riley Maher.
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) developed the Spirit of Sport Award in 2008 as a way to recognize individuals who exemplify the ideals of the positive spirit of sport that represent the core mission of education-based athletics. Student-athletes, coaches, athletic administrators, administrators, trainers and other individuals associated with a school’s athletic programs are all eligible for the honor, which generally recognizes individuals who have overcome adversity or gone above and beyond their peers. The IHSA receives one nominee to represent the state of Illinois each school year.
“We are proud to have Riley represent Illinois and the IHSA,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “When we talk about the life lessons that participation in high school sports can provide, dealing with and overcoming adversity are often at the top of the list. The stakes were obviously much greater in Riley’s battle, and we are overjoyed to see her recover and be able to play the sport she has so much passion for, while also representing her school so well in the classroom and community.”
Riley Maher showed incredible determination in her battle with cancer, going from diagnosis to returning to play lacrosse for the Panthers in a six-month span. After showing no prior symptoms, Riley went to the doctor in October 2017 experiencing chest pain she believed to be caused by a bruise in a lacrosse game. Over the course of the next six days, she would be diagnosed with B-Cell Lymphoma and begin undergoing aggressive chemotherapy treatment. Each of her 21-day chemo treatment cycles required a five-day hospital stay followed by 16 days of recovery at home. Her passion for lacrosse and her teammates motivated her in recovery, and amazingly, she was cleared to return to practice on March 21 and played in her first game on April 9. Riley helped guide her team to an IHSA Sectional title a month later. Riley is straight A student who volunteers in her community, and recently accepted a post as the Teen Life Council Member at St. Louis Children’s Hospital where she was treated.
“There were times where I wondered if I was going to get to play (lacrosse) again, said Riley. “I was really missing my team. Open gyms, tryouts, practices. I was there for as much of it as I could be. As I began feeling better and knew the treatment was working, I got brighter, and was excited to start working my way back. On and off the field, I got so much support from so many people I didn’t even know.”
On and off the field, Riley’s presence impacted the Panther team.
“Riley is such an inspiration to our athletes,” said O’Fallon girls lacrosse head coach Rob Garrison. “She showed us that there are things in life we cannot control, but that we can control how we react to them. She faced an obstacle head on and refused to be defeated.”