Glenvar player’s gift is joy and strength

SALEM, VA – One of his parents’ favorite pictures of their son shows Michael Sandridge, leaping high in front of the Arc de Triompe in Paris during a family trip in May 2011.

“We love this photo of him full of strength and joy, and the location is full of symbolism, as well, as Michael is ultimately triumphant!” explained his dad, Bayne Sandridge, in an email response asking for a photo the family particularly likes.

Michael Sandridge, full of strength and joy, at the Arc de Triomphe during a family trip to Paris in May 2011. Sandridge family photo

This week Glenvar High School friends of the 16-year-old sophomore known for his wide smile and impish sense of humor are praying extra hard for him. He is hospitalized to ease his pain from testicular cancer he has been fighting since he was diagnosed June 12. The cancer spread to his lungs, abdomen and liver, and so Michael started his first round of chemotherapy the next day.

When the Make-a-Wish Foundation asked Michael what he wanted, the Glenvar High School Junior Varsity football kicker’s wish was for his classmates and ones to come. He asked for weight equipment for the football team – and the foundation is going to provide it in his honor.

Glenvar High School students and staff send their strength to Michael Sandridge by wearing purple shirts at a "Fight Michael Fight" rally at school on Jan. 17. Chuck Lionberger photo

Last week after they learned treatments hadn’t worked and the cancer seemed to be winning, Michael’s friends and classmates organized a “Fight Michael Fight” rally before school on Jan. 17 when just about everybody showed up wearing purple shirts.

The kids sent a video of them cheering him on to their friend at Roanoke Memorial, and so his dad and mom, Lisa Earp, and younger brother, Matthew, could see their enthusiasm.

His friends wrote in the snow that started after the rally, “Find Your Strong.”

In a note on the Fight Michael Fight Facebook site, the family’s pastor, the Rev. Phyllis Spiegel said the family asked for this week to be a time for them to be together with Michael, and for efforts to be poured into prayer for him instead of messages on social media. According to family friends, Michael is comfortable, awake, and aware of his friends’ love and support.

Over the months when Michael was undergoing chemo treatments at Duke Medical Center and afterwards when he couldn’t be back in school, the football players visited him as a group on several occasions, and presented him with his football jersey, the game ball and a helmet.

In October, the players sold purple T-shirts for the “Pack the Place Purple” football game, and plan to do so again, starting next week.

“I am very proud of the way our players have shown such empathy and support for Michael,” said GHS Football Coach Kevin Clifford. The coach said Make-a-Wish Foundation has granted Michael’s wish and whatever the charity buys will be given to GHS’s football weight room.

“On the surface, this may not seem that significant; it’s just weight equipment,” Clifford said in his posting on the “Fight Michael Fight” Facebook page. “However, it is much more than that. It is about the human spirit and how each one of us can impact one another and maybe for just a moment, put us in a better place.”

The Facebook page was set up by four of Michael’s friends, Colin Newton, Drew Norris, Will Kiser and Andrew McClung, Bayne Sandridge pointed out.

Like the coach, Principal Joe Hafey praised the caring shown by the school community.

“I am just so proud of our students, staff and community for the ongoing support and prayers offered up for Michael and his family during this unbelievably difficult time,” Hafey said. “Here at school, the students have rallied around one another as they show support for their classmate and his struggle with this horrible disease.”

Michael’s friends who started the Fight Michael Fight Facebook page are planning to sell “Fight Michael Fight” T-shirts next week, they said.