'Fight Like 4' becomes Delaware rallying cry for high school QB with cancer
Twelve years ago, a Wilmington boy’s blood-type – B positive – became the inspiration for others to unite in support of his battle against cancer.
Soon after, “B+” was emblazoned on the backs of T-shirts worn by high school basketball players warming up for games.
This time a football player's jersey number has summoned a statewide rallying cry from friends and rivals to come to the aid of a young cancer-stricken athlete.
Troy Haynes earned respect and a reputation as an elusive playmaker during his four years as the Woodbridge High starting quarterback, sparking the Blue Raiders to their first-ever state titles in 2016 and 2018. He also played basketball and baseball for Woodbridge.
Now, “Fight Like 4” has become the mantra, joined by the hashtag #FightLike4, since Haynes was diagnosed with an advanced stage of kidney cancer in April.
That kidney was removed during surgery in May at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, though Haynes required subsequent surgery at the Nemours/Alfred I. du Pont Hospital for Children in Rockland, as the cancer had spread to other organs.
Haynes graduated from Woodbridge on June 2, a moving scene inside the stadium where Haynes heard cheers louder than those his football exploits elicited. Some classmates had "Fight Like 4" written on their graduation caps.
Wanting to walk across the football field to the podium to receive his diploma rather than be pushed in the wheelchair in which he’d arrived, Haynes asked football coach and Dean of Students Jed Bell to accompany him that sunny Sunday.
“It was special, to say the least,” said Bell, who’d been an assistant before succeeding Ed Manlove as head coach after last season. “I didn’t realize people would be so inspired by it.
“The original plan was I was just going to push him across the field to the stage and they were going to come down and give him the diploma. In the morning, Troy said, ‘I want to prove to everybody I can do this.’
"That’s kind of the kid he is. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house."
Haynes then traveled Tuesday to the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas for treatment that includes clinical trials. Haynes has a rare renal cancer that is sickle cell-related.
During that commencement ceremony, class salutatorian Brock Keeler, Haynes’ teammate and the state’s football Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, spoke to his class and those assembled with a large “4” written in black marker on his cheek.
“I wanted to show Troy and the rest of the community that we’ve got his back with everything he’s going through, that we can support him in his fight with cancer,” Keeler said.
Haynes and Keeler have been friends since they sat together on the school bus to kindergarten, not unusual in the close-knit communities of Bridgeville, Greenwood and surrounding rural Sussex County.
In his speech, Keeler praised Haynes’ upbeat attitude, how he has waged his battle with grit while welcoming visitors to his hospital room with a smile.
“Just to see how the whole state’s been behind him and how much of an impact he’s had on everybody else, not just in Sussex County but all over the state, it’s been amazing to see,” Keeler said.
A bittersweet reminder
In January of 2007, Andrew McDonough was a Salesianum School freshman soccer player who’d suddenly become gravely ill and diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia after a weekend indoor tournament. His blood type – B positive – became a call to action and a fashion statement.
McDonough died July 14, 2007, but his legacy continues to make an impact.
The Andrew McDonough Foundation, operated by Andrew’s father, Joe, was formed to aid families with children facing cancer. It has since raised millions of dollars and helped thousands.
Among them have been Troy Haynes and his parents Christina and Troy Sr.
Joe McDonough has praised Troy’s strength, determination and attitude, saying Troy reminds him of Andrew.
“First time I visited him, he’s just a stud athlete, real respectful, good kid, and he goes from winning a state championship to faced with a life-threatening illness,” McDonough said. “And he’s handling it with grace and courage. To see the whole 'Fight Like 4' is very reminiscent of B+.
“One of the visits I made with Troy at A.I., he was telling me with such pride, ‘Yeah, Middletown sent something.’
"For a high school athlete, these are your adversaries and to see them rallying behind you, it really means a lot to him."
Nearly $43,500 had been raised as of June 11 through a GoFundMe page set up to help with Haynes’ medical expenses, which are costly.
Donations have come from individuals, couples, families, businesses, schools, churches, fire companies, civic organizations and, especially, sports teams throughout Delaware and beyond.
Among the high school football teams that have contributed are those from Wilmington Friends, Sussex Tech, Indian River, Delaware Military Academy and First State Military Academy. So have the baseball teams from Dover and Polytech, the basketball team from Delmar and the girls lacrosse team from Dover.
Woodbridge and Friends have developed quite a rivalry since beginning a regular-season series in 2011, with each winning four times. Woodbridge won a pair of state championship rematches over the Quakers – 14-9 in 2016 and 33-9 last season.
Despite one being a downstate public school and the other an upstate private school, the two have developed a mutual respect on the football field that has carried over into wanting to help Hayes.
“The entire Quaker football community has a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for the Woodbridge team and for Troy Haynes,” said Sue Harron, a Wilmington Friends School parent who led a fund-raising effort. “These kids have battled against each other the last few years. We’ve had some epic games, two championship games. So as soon as we heard about it, we wanted to do something.
“By the time I had reached out to people to start getting donations for the GoFundMe page, so many of our families on an individual basis had already donated. It makes you really proud to be a part of the community. We know how tough Troy is. We just wanted to let him know we were behind him in this fight.”
Harron’s son Liam played against Haynes often, hating the havoc he wreaked but admiring his ability and attitude. In Haynes, Harron said, other players see themselves.
“I think we all kind of feel it could be any one of us,” Liam Harron said. “We’ve all loved playing football. To see another 18-year-old kid, who was going out there and a lot of times on the field he was just making incredible plays, going through something like this, it’s pretty scary.
“Every time we played against Woodbridge, all of them, Troy included, they’ve been very good competitors. They’re never cheap. When they win, they’re not talking trash after the game. They’re always very gracious in defeat. They just seem like a really good group of guys and Troy especially. To see him have to go through something like that, it’s just sad.”
The first time Friends saw Haynes he was a freshman who rallied Woodbridge from a 28-10 fourth-quarter deficit in a game Friends won 28-23 in Alapocas in 2015.
“I remember Troy when he was a freshman,” Friends coach Bob Tattersall said. “He came in that game because their other quarterback kinda got knocked out of the game. We won the game but he darn near pulled it out for them. That game came down to the last play of the game when we knocked a ball out of bounds at the 5-yard line. You could tell right then he had great poise and sparked those guys."
'We’re all fighting like 4'
Other donations have been made through car washes, dinners and bake sales. There is also a concert June 28 at Kingdom Empowerment Christian Church in Seaford. At Sussex Tech, students made and sold wristbands to raise money. T-shirts adorned with “Fight Like 4” have become quite popular.
Not all contributions have been of the monetary variety. Sussex Tech and Milford were among those that tweeted pictures of their baseball teams holding up four fingers in honor of Haynes.
Twitter and Facebook have provided a forum for those sending Haynes messages and videos, including many from area coaches and opposing teams.
Haynes also received videos from Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and tight end Zach Ertz.
We’re so proud of how you’ve overcome this adversity and fought this thing head on," Ertz said. "So I just want you to know we’re all fighting like four, man.”
Eagles linebacker Paul Worrilow, the former Concord High All-Stater and University of Delaware All-American, visited Haynes at A.I. du Pont hospital.
Teammate Gabe Wescott, another friend since grade school, said it’s difficult to see what Haynes has had to endure. But he knows Haynes has been deeply touched and motivated by the show of support.
“You just wish you could take it for him,” Wescott said, “but that’s obviously not the case so you just try to be there for him. Troy has always been a winner, he’s always been a fighter, so this is nothing new. He’s definitely gonna win this. I have no doubt in my mind."
Among the more poignant gestures was the video posted by the Delaware Military Academy football team to Haynes on Facebook.
His players surrounding him, coach Mike Ryan begins by explaining, “We know you’re going through a tough time, but let me tell you something Troy, if you were tough enough to beat us, beat these guys, as a freshman quarterback down at Woodbridge in the playoffs, you’re tough enough to beat this cancer.”
Ryan then explains that during their weight-lifting session, DMA players will do an extra repetition after each set.
“We’re gonna call it ‘One more for Troy,’ ” Ryan said.
The video, set to music and guaranteed to get the tears flowing, then shows DMA players completing their sets and flashing one index finger followed by four fingers while saying “One more for Troy.”
Remembering all those kids in all those B+ T-shirts, Joe McDonough appreciates the efforts on Haynes’ behalf and knows the value.
“One thing that’s so important is the emotional state of the patient,” McDonough said, “and this rallying of Fight Like 4 has just been amazing to lift his spirits.”
“It’s definitely not surprising,” said Liam Harron, the recent Friends graduate. “It’s good to see the Delaware high school football community come together for the greater good."
Have an idea for a compelling local sports story or is there an issue that needs public scrutiny? Contact Kevin Tresolini at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @kevintresolini. Support local journalism by subscribing to delawareonline.com.