Community, team rallies together with 11-year-old

Mar. 07, 2013 @ 06:39 PM

She wanted to be like her daddy.

Wherever her father went, she followed. The desire to emulate her dad took Meghan Bunn to local sporting events and eventually N.C. State baseball, basketball and football games.

When a Wolfpack team plays on TV, Meghan doesn’t stray far from the side of her father, Brian Bunn, a lifelong N.C. State fan. She knows the player’s names and some of their statistics.

The University of North Carolina Children’s Hospital serves as the frontline for Meghan’s battle with brain cancer, but the 11-year-old Vance Charter School fifth-grader wears red whenever she pays the Tar Heel doctors there a visit.
“I just like to rub it in their faces,” she said.

The N.C. State basketball team invited Meghan inside their locker room before its annual preseason Red-White game and she watched the Duke contest on her birthday from State head coach Mark Gottfried’s suite.

She’s a big fan of Wolfpack players C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell and Rodney Purvis. And they’re big fans of her, too. They follow on her Instagram and give her shout-outs on Twitter.

Her bedroom in the Bunns’ Oxford home is a shrine to N.C. State athletics.

Well, almost. Amongst the sea of red and white rests a Carolina basketball, placed squarely in the middle of enemy territory.

J.F. Webb star and future Tar Heel Isaiah Hicks can take credit for that. The 6-foot-9 McDonald’s All-American signed the ball and gave it to Meghan on a visit to the Bunn home that was arranged by Warrior softball standout Kali Puckett.

“He sat down, kicked his feet up, and was just talking to Meghan like they were friends forever,” said Meghan’s mother, Christy Bunn. “Ever since then, it was like he stole her heart. So she’s been a huge fan of his.”

Meghan, diagnosed with a brain tumor last May, attends every Webb basketball game she can, sitting behind the team’s bench. Her presence is dependant on a good enough blood count following the chemotherapy that weakens her immune system.

“It’s tough to see somebody go through that at a young age,” said Hicks. “We’re all healthy and stuff and she’s going through hard times. She’s never negative. It’s like she doesn’t even pay attention to it sometimes.”

Hicks’ future in Chapel Hill hasn’t slipped her attention. She tried to “sway his decision.” 

No luck.

Christy, a UNC grad, didn’t fare much better in efforts to steer Meghan clear of the Wolfpack.

“They’ve been good at supporting,” Meghan said of N.C. State. “They’ve really been good. Carolina has too, but I just really like State better.”

Of course Brian likes State better, too. Father and daughter both intend to cheer on Isaiah, but only Isaiah, next season. 

“Absolutely. I hope he just brings the house down,” said Brian. “But when they play State, I hope they lose.”

“I hope he makes it and goes a long way because he showed me all I needed to see about his character,” Brian added. “Good things are going to happen to that kid.”

Meghan and her basketball buddy can at least share their disdain for the other Tobacco Road resident. Bunn would like to go watch Hicks play next season, but would rather not see Duke play anymore. She said doesn’t like the Blue Devils and their Cameron Crazies very much.

Webb fans have rallied around Meghan, an avid athlete herself. She made the Dixie Youth softball all-star team each season she played.

The softball league created a fundraiser with “Prayers for Meghan” T-shirts, which spawned “Team Meghan” bracelets, a hit in the Warrior basketball team’s locker room. Christy said Mitron Terry, Stefan Cates and all of the team have also been encouraging.

“And it’s not just Isaiah,” said Christy. “Mitron, Stefan, any of them. When they see her, they are like, ‘Hey, Meghan, how are you? Get well soon.’ It just brings a smile to her face. They don’t realize what they’re doing for her, but it’s making a huge difference in her life.”

All season, the Webb team has sported a newer version of the T-shirts for pregame shootarounds. When they knew Meghan would be in attendance, they’d bust out the purple “Team Meghan” tops to surprise her.

The back of the softball-themed shirt, designed by Meghan and Christy, features the message, “Knocking cancer out of the park,” along with Meghan’s favorite bible verse: Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Meghan had her mom write the verse on her softball glove.

“So if ever she was struggling on the ball field or getting down on herself, she would stop, look at her glove, say the verse and go back pitching,” said Christy. “That verse means a lot to her.”

Meghan won’t be able to play softball this spring. The chemo has left her too weak to take the field.

But the Bunns anticipate a return next season. The cancer, the doctors say, is now clear of her brain and spine. Brian and Christy are quick to knock on wood, careful not to get ahead of themselves.

Meghan will be hospitalized next week for what the Bunns hope is her last round with chemo.

Meanwhile, Brian and Christy are expecting their fourth daughter Monday.

“All I want for (Meghan) and for the rest of my kids is to be healthy,” said Brian. “I want to die before they die.”

The Bunns’ neighbor and friend, Webb coach Leo Brunelli, and his Warriors are two wins away from reaching the 3-A state championship game, to be held next Saturday at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum. They take on Eastern Alamance tonight in Fayetteville at the Eastern Regional. Win, and they play Saturday night at 6.

The Warriors have donned the “Team Meghan” warm-ups in each of their three state playoff wins.

Usually the players slide the shirts off for game time, but Brunelli said his four junior varsity call-ups recently asked to keep them on.

“They want to take it off, believe me,” said Brunelli. “They want to get in the game. But they also understand it’s pretty important to be wearing that shirt. If anything we’re doing brings just one more smile to her face, then it’s all worth it.”
Brunelli said the team has dedicated its playoff run to Meghan.

And the purple shirts aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be on the players’ backs in Fayetteville this weekend and quite possibly next week in Raleigh.

“All the way,” said Brunelli. “All the way to the state championship.”

Contact the writer at kholtzman@hendersondispatch.com.

Help Meghan

Purple “Team Meghan” T-shirts can be obtained by calling Brian Bunn at (919) 691-4574. All proceeds benefit medical expenses of Meghan Bunn.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.           Philippians 4:13