The Kingston High School varsity football team will be the first to tell you that their new captain is quite possibly their toughest ever. Six-year-old Crosby Elementary first-grader Grace Thiele has the boys working harder than ever to score touchdown after touchdown as she roots from the sidelines.
The team “adopted” Grace after coach Jeramie Collins challenged his football leadership class to go into the community and find a cause that’s “bigger than football.” That’s when they found Grace.
Grace was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January 2011 after suffering several months of hard-hitting and severe fatigue symptoms. Lymphoblastic leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells in the bone marrow, and is most typically seen in children or the elderly. The good news is that there is an 80 percent or greater chance of survival for kids if they are diagnosed in time. Grace is currently being treated at the pediatric hematology and oncology center in Albany Medical Center, and is doing well.
Through a family friend, the team reached out to Grace’s parents, Erik and Lori Thiele of Lake Katrine, who both work in the public service field. They were delighted to accept the team’s offer and asked that any team fundraising go to the Ronald McDonald House in Albany in Grace’s name rather than her directly. Grace was invited to be an honorary team captain, and has dutifully attended all of the Tigers’ games in which she gets to flip the coin, cheer with the cheerleaders, wear her favorite team member’s jersey and give all the massive, hulking players big warm hugs when they score. Grace, her little toddler brother and her folks even got into attending the team’s away games.
“I was excited for her, and it was a nice ending in a crappy year,” said her father, Erik. “My wife would come, my son would come. It kind of takes your mind off things, you know?”
Erik described Grace as not shy, but not exactly begging for attention either. “We went to the football banquet and everyone cheered and clapped, she wanted to crawl into a box. But when she met the team she was like, ‘OK Mom and Dad, I am OK I am going with these guys, see you later.’ She is a very humble kid. She doesn’t like the attention on her.”