Football star who overcame cancer chooses free lunch for school over meeting LeBron James

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Usually, the Make-A-Wish Foundation is geared solely toward helping children and teenagers realize dreams of meeting celebrities, athletes or attending big events before debilitating diseases fully set-in to take over their lives. Yet for one day last week, the organization was focused on handing out a free lunch to some 1,900 students, all because a high school senior football and basketball player decided that it was more important to thank people who have helped him than it was to hang out with LeBron James at the NBA All-Star Game.

Middle Creek senior athlete and cancer survivor Rayshawn King — News & Observer
Middle Creek senior athlete and cancer survivor Rayshawn King — News & Observer

As reported in exquisite detail by the News & Observer's Tim Stevens, the magnanimous North Carolina player in question was Middle Creek (N.C.) High football and basketball star Rayshawn King, who returned to play his senior season while fighting leukemia. The teen's cancer has since gone into remission, though he still has to take some 24 pills per day and has chemotherapy sessions once a month until he reaches September, at which point he can discontinue them if he is deemed to be cancer free.

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Because of his battle with cancer, King had been targeted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and he quickly accepted their offer to make one of his dreams come true. The teen had hoped to meet James, and a chance to meet him at the All-Star Game would clearly be a trip of a lifetime.

Yet, after King had sent in a request for that trip, he thought better of it.

"I had made a selfish wish," King told the News & Observer. "I had a chance to really touch people and I was missing it. Why not give back to the people who had cared for me. They helped me. Why not say 'Thank you.'

"Some of these people say that I'm an inspiration. But they are my inspiration."

Among those who were clearly inspired by King's decision to host were Make-A-Wish officials themselves, who had simply never had anyone ask to use their wish on providing a free Chick-fil-a meal for an entire school, or anything else nearly as generous.

"We've never had a wish like this," said Kristen Mercer Johnson, Make-A-Wish president. "We've never had anyone who wanted to share his wish with this many people."

Yet for King, that kind of generosity simply fits with his broader giving personality. The teenager who once starred in both football and basketball at Middle Creek returned as a senior to be more of a role player, adjusted expectations that were brought on by the dramatic physical effects of fighting through the cancer that had left him bedridden and which he once assumed would end his life.

Instead, it has inspired him to become a nurse, a pursuit he will start when he attends North Carolina Central beginning in the fall, when his academic scholarship to the school will begin.

"What I really want to do is be a nurse who works with cancer patients," King told the News & Observer. "I know about cancer.

"I was upset when I realized that I wasn't as good as I had been, but I also knew I had changed. Sports used to be my life and sports isn't my life any more. I know that people love and care for me."

For one afternoon, that love and care was reflected right back at them in the form of teachers donning cow suits and free chicken sandwiches for an astounding 1,900. If that isn't charming and heart touching at the same time, it's hard to know what is.

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