LANGDON, N.D. -- Langdon-Edmore-Munich brought home the North Dakota Class B state high school volleyball championship last weekend. For the Cardinals, however, there may have been a bigger accomplishment this season.
Since 8-year-old Kynlee Pengilly, the granddaughter of Cardinals assistant coach Tami Flink, was diagnosed with cancer in early October, the L-E-M volleyball players have raised approximately $15,000 to help the Pengilly family with expenses.
“For myself, definitely, helping a little girl is a bigger thing (than winning a state title),’’ sophomore Morgan Freije said. “I think my whole team would agree with that. Helping her has meant so much to our team.’’
Pengilly, a second grader at Langdon, is no stranger to the Langdon-E-M volleyball team. Last year, she frequently was with her grandmother at the team’s practices. She usually came to the team’s home matches.
But late this past summer, Kynlee’s parents noticed a lump on her head. As the lump grew, they sought medical advice. In early October, Kynlee was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a cancer found in soft tissue and bones.
“When I got the news, I was at volleyball practice,’’ Flink said. “I was crying and upset. The next day, we were on the bus going to a tournament and Morgan came over and said the team was dedicating the season to Kynlee.’’
The Cardinals weren’t just playing for the 8-year-old. They already had plans.
“It was a tough practice for all of us,’’ Freije said. “Kynlee is my little buddy. She’s just a great kid. All of us love her so much.
“I went home after practice and told my mom that we needed to do something about it. Coach Flink and her family mean so much to us. We wanted to do what we could to help. And the community was there to get behind us.’’
The Cardinals did a fund-raiser selling t-shirts. They contacted Jeff Fisk, a former Langdon resident who owns a custom screen printing business in West Fargo and is a friend of Kynlee’s parents, Jessica and Cody Pengilly. Fisk donated 850 t-shirts and all the work.
They sold approximately 1,200 pink bracelets with the words ‘’Kynlee’s fight’’ printed in yellow on them.
The team played Grafton on Nov. 1, Kynlee’s birthday, and the players did a cake walk, a 50-50 drawing and took donations. More than $2,000 was raised on that night alone.
“They decided to give Kynlee a big birthday bash,’’ Flink said. “They presented her with a pink autographed volleyball and a unicorn birthday cake. The whole gym sang happy birthday to her.
“It was awesome. It’s all been a very heart-warming experience. The girls did a lot of work. They raised a lot of money in a short time. They really showed they cared.’’
Even at their highest moment, the Cardinals remembered Kynlee.
Before the state championship match Saturday, the team turned in their pregame huddle as a group and waved to Kynlee, who was in the stands. Likewise, after the match, they stood on the court as a group waving to the 8-year-old. “She was smiling, a big smile, and waving back,’’ Freije said.
“You realize when something like this happens that there’s so much more than sports. You thank God for the blessings you have and pray that others, like Kynlee, can get better. And Kynlee is a fighter.’’
The road ahead has challenges for Kynlee Pengilly.
She’s currently in the midst of 12 weeks of chemotherapy treatment in Fargo. She faces surgery when that concludes, followed by four weeks of radiation and then 22 more weeks of chemotherapy.
The state-champion Langdon-Edmore-Munich volleyball team has done what it could to alleviate some of the financial burden.
“We never put a number on what we hoped to raise,’’ Freije said. “We just knew that anything we could raise would help. And it was sort of a shock. It was more than I think we ever would have thought.’’