It started on Twitter, with the hashtag #BLUE4BURKE, and it blew up. On Tuesday, nearly every student and teacher at Marysville High School wore royal blue to school in honor of Devon Burke, who has an extremely serious health battle on his hands. Now, rival schools are joining in - schools where kids normally wear red or green or something other than blue to show support for their teams. They, too, wore blue to support Devon and are collecting donations.
It started on Twitter, with the hashtag #BLUE4BURKE, and it blew up.
On Tuesday, nearly every student and teacher at Marysville High School wore royal blue to school in honor of Devon Burke, who has an extremely serious health battle on his hands. His friends collected donations for his family.
Now, rival schools are joining in — schools where kids normally wear red or green or something other than blue to show support for their teams. They, too, wore blue to support Devon and are collecting donations.
Devon Burke thought at first that the pain in his leg came from shin splints. The 15-year-old sophomore ran a lot and played wide receiver and corner on the football team for Marysville High, which is about 35 miles northwest of Columbus. The first doctors he saw agreed with his self-diagnosis.
A few months passed, though, and the pain didn’t go away. Then a lump appeared on his leg. Doctors X-rayed it last month and came back with a much-scarier diagnosis: The pain and lump were caused by Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare, aggressive form of childhood bone cancer that strikes fewer than 3 out of every 1 million people younger than 20.
For his mother, Annie Johnson, the diagnosis was a sucker punch to the gut. Devon, though, responded with an optimism that floored her.
“When they told me in the hospital, he was sitting on the bed next to me, and I looked over at him and I’m trying to catch my breath. I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “And he just had a smile on his face. This is him trying to be strong.”
His friends wanted to encourage that strength, so this week, they turned his school blue.
Then Bobby Smith, a wrestler at Hilliard Davison High School, one of Marysville’s rivals, started a campaign there. Students at Olentangy-Liberty and Thomas Worthington high schools also started wearing blue and collecting money.
Smith, 18, said he didn’t know Devon but felt compelled to help when he saw a Marysville wrestler post about Blue for Burke.
“It sucks to see someone in that situation,” he said. “I know one school doing their best is great, but schools coming together and central Ohio coming together to help one individual’s family — I just wanted to lead the charge on that here because I wouldn’t want to be in that situation myself.”
The other schools’ response overwhelmed Devon’s best friend, another Devon, who started the “ blue-out.” Devon Stephen, 15, said she wanted people to support her friend and she wanted him to know that people cared about him, but she didn’t want it to be something sad.
When all the other schools started getting on board, she was elated.
“It’s amazing to me that all of these people are caring so much,” the 15-year-old said. “And maybe now it’s more about coming together and being aware of cancer and the effect it can have on someone. It’s amazing. Everyone’s wearing blue.”
On Friday night, students on both sides of the Marysville basketball game against Thomas Worthington plan to wear blue in Devon’s honor.
Devon won’t make the game, because he has another chemo treatment on Friday, but he said he feels lucky. He has seen kids at Nationwide Children’s Hospital who don’t have the same kind of support network.
Kids whose diagnosis is Ewing’s sarcoma have about a 70 percent survival rate if doctors catch the cancer before it spreads. People who get it in their legs and arms, like Devon, also have better chances of survival.
He knows he’ll beat it, he said, and if he ever thinks “Why me?” it’s only because he’s glad to have the friends he does.
“I feel like I got singled out, and I feel really bad that this blew up for me so much, and it didn’t for some others,” he said of the support. “I wish a lot of the other kids with cancer could be a part of this.”