Mat Mikesell

Payson Seymour enters start of postseason play with heavy hearts

Austin Frese
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Feb. 17, 2018 8:20 pm Updated: Feb. 17, 2018 11:54 pm

PAYSON, Ill.

The Payson Seymour boys basketball team, ranked third in the Class 1A state poll, enters regional play this week with the hope of making the school's first trip to the state basketball tournament.

However, their thoughts also are with a teammate who recently learned he's been diagnosed with cancer.

Austin Frese, a junior for the Indians, has been in St. Louis for the last two weeks after being diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that forms in bones or the soft tissue around the bones. It's commonly found in teenagers but can happen at any age, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The Indians learned two weeks ago that Frese's tumors were cancerous.

"It was hard at first, obviously," Payson Seymour senior guard Tanner Cannady said. "But we know he'll be strong and fight through it. Just like us, if we keep playing well, it'll give him motivation to fight his battle."

Frese has been on the Indians' minds since the diagnosis. The players wear yellow socks for their games -- yellow is the color for sarcoma and bone cancer awareness -- and wear black warmup shirts with Frese's jersey number on the back to show they're supporting their teammate.

The Payson community isn't alone in supporting him. Friday night's game against Western was a "white out" where fans wore white clothing and gave donations to support the Frese family.

Most of those in the gym wore white, and more than $3,300 was raised for the Frese family. Austin's mother, Donna, also is battling cancer.

"He's a special kid, and I love all my players like family," Payson Seymour coach Brian Rea said. "I love the kid, and I'd give him my health if I was able to. It's tough to talk about because it's going to be a huge battle."

That also makes focusing on basketball a tough task.

"It's hard to not let us distract it from playing," Cannady said. "We can think about him, but we want it to be positive and motivation to be even better than what we've been."

Playing its best is all that Payson Seymour can do right now. The Indians are the top seed in the Class 1A Central Regional and will face either seventh-seeded Central or 10th-seeded Southeastern in the semifinals on Tuesday.

"I want them to play and remember that," Rea said. "But I want them to do their best, because he, his family, our community deserve our best. We should be thankful and always have him in our thoughts."

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