The buzzer sounded. Thumping feet came to a stop on the floor as the ref’s whistle blew. About four minutes remained in the Kuna High School boys junior varsity basketball game.

Meanwhile, outside the gym, people skirted around each other to find those they recognized. Small groups clustered, hugs exchanged. The night of Friday, Jan. 5 was always going to be a sad, yet special night.

This night was the night Kuna High School honored Matthew Scanlon, a varsity basketball player, a graduate, a friend. Matthew was diagnosed with cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, in May 2016. He died just over a year later.

Black T-shirts with lime green letters reading “Scanlon Strong” dotted the gym’s bleachers as event attendees took their seats. Kuna boys varsity basketball players jogged around the court to warm up. They had on bright white long-sleeve shirts with “Scanlon Strong” in black on the back.

After their warm up, the buzzer sounded, and a voice came on over the speaker.

“Tonight, we honor Matthew Scanlon.”

Kuna High School principal Brian Graves stood in front of a covered sign. He invited Matthew Scanlon’s family, his coaches and his teammates onto the gym floor.

Two staff members uncovered the sign. There was Matthew’s basketball jersey, number 10.

“As a coach, you always want someone to be that inspiration,” Graves said. “Someone to take that shot, to take that dive … Matthew was that inspiration. This sign will be above the locker room door so that Kuna athletes will always remember to be Scanlon strong.”

SCANLON STRONG

Shortly after Scanlon’s diagnosis, two 16-year-old Kuna High School seniors — Hillary Waldal and Averie Stewart — decided to make their senior project a fundraiser and birthday party to help raise money for Scanlon’s medical bills and recovery.

Angelie Bauer, the student council adviser, offered to help get T-shirts made for the fundraiser. One of Matthew’s friends came to her with a design and said “Hey, this is him. Can we do this?” Bauer sent the drawing to a man she knew who did printed T-shirts.

Later, during his senior year, Scanlon had Bauer as a language arts teacher.

Bauer said she met Scanlon in the spring, when he had just started more chemo. He wasn’t coming to school much, but Bauer worked closely with him, focusing on what he needed to graduate high school. Eventually, Scanlon came back to school full-time. He also served as Bauer’s teacher aid.

Bauer said through those multiple classes, they became close.

Bauer and Scanlon made plans go to lunch before he left for college, but, as his health got worse over the summer, that got pushed back.

However, the day before he died, Scanlon surprised Bauer at work.

“Of all the things that he could’ve been consumed with, and been angry with … I’m sure he had those moments but we never saw those,” Bauer said. “It was always, ‘What can I do for you? Do you need a hug?’ which is why I think he showed up in my office the day before he passed away. (He was) just worried about me.”

“One of the last text messages I received from him … was to make me feel better,” Bauer said with her voice wavering, “which again speaks volumes to who he was as a person, not consumed by pain or fear or anything else, it was always about everybody else. The last message I got from him was a thank you. ‘Thank you Bauer. You’re an incredible woman.’”

“And you know that was not even 24 hours before he passed,” she continued. “He was just a good boy, a good, good boy. If the world were full of Matthews, we would have … a pretty special place.”

Multiple Scanlon Strong fundraisers were held both before and after Scanlon’s death. People are still donating to organizations on behalf of Matthew Scanlon, his mother said.

Since Scanlon’s death, Bauer said she has tried to live her life as Matthew would have continued living his life: being kind and positive, even through adversity, having fun and putting others first.

“He didn’t leave anything behind,” Bauer said. “His family and his friends knew how much he loved them. Ultimately I think that’s what Scanlon Strong means to me, is just making sure people know you care about them, both what you say to them but more importantly how you interact with them.”

AN INSPIRATION

When Scanlon was a junior, he made the boys varsity basketball team. That year, Joe Kleffner, one of Scanlon’s coaches, said a weight lifting program was started for the basketball team.

“He always came and pushed the seniors who were a very big (height and strength-wise) class,” Kleffner said. “But by the end of the workout time he was the one getting the strongest and pushing those seniors … he’d just go grab bigger, heavier weights, he’d be the guy yelling a little louder, but he was just playing around like Matt would. But he played around by working too.”

At first, Scanlon really competed with the seniors. Then he started getting sick, weaker. Scanlon hadn’t been diagnosed with lymphoma yet.

As Scanlon was getting sick, he asked Kleffner if he could play on the junior varsity team.

“I told him no,” Kleffner said with a chuckle, “because he was big and strong.”

“As time went on, unbeknownst to us, he was getting less playing time,” Kleffner said. “He was tired, sick … I understood, because I had him the year before as a JV guy. Matt always was just kind of sick every once in awhile during the winter time, but it was nothing different.”

Then, after the basketball season, Kleffner found out Scanlon had lymphoma.

“Boy, (it) was a punch in the face,” Kleffner said. “It was a shocker.”

Scanlon moved on into his senior year with the goal to graduate. That meant doing a senior project.

Trevor Barker was Scanlon’s senior project adviser and one of Scanlon’s other coaches. Barker said that for many seniors, the senior project is a big deal. Seniors need to complete it in order to graduate. It is constantly one of the top things on their minds.

While Scanlon was going through chemo, Barker said, his senior project wasn’t always his top priority.

However, Scanlon was always positive. His initial senior project was to help coach the freshman basketball team, however, Scanlon changed it to reporting about his cancer experience.

“Every time I’d see him, he’d smile,” Barker said. “We’d joke and we’d laugh joke, even right in the middle of chemo, he’s 130/140 pounds and just looked frail, but he always had a smile on his face. For me it was always, ‘Man, just look at him. He doesn’t look very well,’ but he still has that smile and he’s still not looking down.”

One memorable thing for Kleffner was Scanlon’s friendly personality.

“Matt was really easy to get along with,” Kleffner said. “He’d talk with everybody, whether you’re the superstar or you’re just the quiet kid walking down the hallway ... and the teachers too. He was just a generally nice kid, and a very open and honest young man.”

REMEMBERING MATTHEW

Live every moment. Just live.

That’s how Matthew lived before his death.

That’s what his mother, Kristine Scanlon, is trying to do.

While hospitalized, Matthew liked to watch travel shows to see the food.

Fortunately, he wasn’t on diet restrictions while undergoing treatment. His family would frequently bring him whatever food he was craving or wanted to try. He’d recently come to like sushi and tongue tacos.

Besides his literal hunger for global cuisine, Matthew hungered to travel the world for exploration, to learn history, to spend time outdoors. Matthew loved biking, camping, hiking. Kristine said she could see him being a river guide, maybe as a weekend job, because he just enjoyed spending time outside.

“I don’t know what he would’ve, could’ve been,” Kristine said. “It hurts knowing he won’t grow up, to see who he could’ve been, what he would’ve done. I think he would’ve done something big, impacted a lot of people.”

But Matthew did impact a lot of people. Kristine Scanlon guesses around 400 people were at his funeral. The event center has a capacity of 250. It was standing room only.

Before he died, Matthew said not to take those relationships for granted, to spend time with family, friends, people you love, to take that time and be positive when you’re around those people.

At times Matthew was sad, and he apologized. He knew that when he was gone, he’d be gone. Matthew said he felt sad for his sister, his brothers, his father and his mother.

“Come here mama,” Matthew would say as he patted the side of his hospital bed. Kristine Scanlon would lie down next to him.

“We had the ‘why’ conversation,” Kristine Scanlon said, “and that it wasn’t fair. But, also, about what he wanted, and didn’t want. He asked me to take care of certain people when he died, to make sure those people were OK, were taken care of.”

“I think when faced with death at a young age,” Kristine Scanlon said, “it changes the way you look at things.”

Matthew Scanlon wanted the people who helped him — his nurses, everyone at MISTI, everyone in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, his teachers and principal who helped him graduate, teachers in general — he wanted those people honored and thanked. A memorial account in his name was set up for those people.

Matthew Scanlon died Sept. 26. Months may have passed, but Kristine Scanlon knows Matthew won’t be forgotten.

“He did touch a lot of lives,” Kristine said. “To me, he was just my kid.”

Her voice broke.

“He was a great kid.”

Alx Stevens is the reporter for Kuna Melba News. Contact her at 208-922-3008 or editor@kunamelba.com.

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