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Ashlee Barrett has an ally in her fight against cancer — 80 men, or so. And they enjoy a good battle.
The daunting path to recovery for the former University of Toledo basketball player will extend to northeast Ohio Friday, where her fiance’s former football teammates will conduct a public practice to raise money for the leukemia-stricken Barrett.
Toledo coach Matt Campbell said his team’s 12th practice of the spring “is one of those things they’re always going to remember.” The free event will start at 6 p.m at Mentor High School, the alma mater of Barrett’s boyfriend, former Toledo defensive end Ben Pike. Donations will be accepted on behalf of Barrett, whose story of perseverance hit a major snag in late January when the cancer was found in her body a second time.
“They came to me with this idea to do this and I was kind of blown away and humbled,” said Pike, who is forgoing a fifth year of eligibility to be with Barrett. “It will be good for those guys to get out, and it will be cool for me to have my college team come to my high school.”
As big as Friday will be, today might be bigger. Barrett will receive a stem cell transplant and spend the next 40 days in a St. Louis-area hospital. If her body accepts the procedure, Pike says, doctors are confident Barrett could be rid of leukemia. The success of the procedure will be known within a week or so.
In January, Barrett learned her bout with leukemia, which she appeared to have won during the fall, had returned after doctors detected the disease during a routine check-up. She had to leave her job as a grade school teacher for the second time. The couple, however, refuses to readjust their June 15 wedding date.
“It’s been more emotionally draining this time around than physically,” Pike said. “We thought we were free and clear and making our way out of it.”
Barrett this week has been undergoing chemotherapy, and is too weak to give a telephone interview. Pike, who travels between Toledo and St. Louis twice a month, will be in attendance Friday. Barrett will not.
Pike credits offensive linemen and groomsmen Zac Kerin and Greg Mancz for coming up with the idea, and Campbell for bringing it together.
“Ben’s just one of the best kids I’ve ever coached,” longtime Mentor coach Steve Trivisonno said. “He’s a great kid who plays the game with passion and has been a big part of their program at Toledo and a big part of ours.”
Trivisonno said several area high school teams will attend. UT defensive end Jayrone Elliott, of Cleveland Glenville, is recruiting people at his alma mater to do the same.
“I know how much it means to the university to support Ben and Ashlee, and I’m thankful to be a part of it,” Elliott said.
Those who cannot attend practice but would like to donate to Barrett should send checks to: Fifth Third Bank, Ashlee Barrett Fund/Northeast Ohio, 9875 Johnnycake Ridge Road, Mentor, Ohio, 44060.
BLACKBURN: Redshirt freshman quarterback Brian Blackburn is getting reps at tight end, Campbell said, as the staff explores ways to get the former three-star prospect involved in the offense. Blackburn is still competing behind starter Terrance Owens at quarterback, but his limited participation at the position could be telling about where he stands in the hierarchy.
“He did a couple of things athletically in the scrimmage [Friday] at quarterback, and so we said let’s see if we can use him other ways and be creative with him,” Campbell said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org. 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.