By Stella Heo and Griffin Ruebner, Online Editor-in-Chief and Print Sports Section Editor
// The Acalanes High School varsity women’s lacrosse team held a memorial on March 25 to honor Alexa Despins and her battle with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a genetic blood disease.
Despins was 11 years old when she passed away on July 7, 2020. She was an athlete who enjoyed playing soccer, and she began to play lacrosse before she got sick.
“Just before she got sick, she discovered lacrosse and found that she not only liked it, but that she had talent for it, and she was becoming more interested in giving up soccer and moving to lacrosse. Unfortunately, she got sick, and she was unable to make that transition,” social studies teacher Joseph Schottland said.
Women’s lacrosse coach Bill Fraser suggested that the team honor Despins, and in response, the players wrote letters to show their support.
“Our coach, Bill Fraser, told us about her since she is related to his good friend and former Acalanes teacher Bob Barter, and we wanted to give back and support both Barter and his family during the difficult time,” varsity women’s lacrosse co-captain and senior Charlotte Fellner said. “I was very happy and proud of the support the team showed because even though they never met her, they still took the time to send her cards and words of encouragement as well as support her family.”
In addition to the letters, the team’s captains, Fellner and senior Grace Gebhardt, dedicated the season to her.
“The fact that the captains went out of their way to arrange for Alexa’s journey to be spoken about, even during COVID-19 and distance learning, is a testament to their maturity and kindness. I don’t know the captains very well, but actions speak louder than words, and I’m proud to be on this team and what it represents,” varsity women’s lacrosse player and junior Samantha Louie said.
To honor Despins, the team held a memorial on the field before their game against Las Lomas on March 25. Players brought flowers to Alexa’s family, who were seated at midfield.
“They were out there, and Las Lomas girls, which was the opponent, lined up to one side, and the Acalanes girls team lined up on the other side. A number of the girls were given individual roses, and then they each went up midfield and went to the table and laid a red or a white flower in front of the family,” Schottland said.
After the team delivered the flowers, Schottland gave a speech on behalf of Despins’ family.
“[Schottland] read the dedication. Our stands were filled with parents of the players. The stadium was silent. It was a beautiful tribute to a brave little girl,” Fraser said.
To many players, the memorial was a way to learn about and celebrate Despins’ life.
“I didn’t know Alexa personally, and up until about a few days prior, I wasn’t aware of her situation. However, hearing the family’s words about her life and seeing them stand around her picture was eye-opening to how quickly life can change,” Louie said. “Overall, I liked the ceremony because it was created to memorialize Alexa, but it was sad to know that something so beautiful was because of an unfortunate loss.”
Although Despins was not a player on the lacrosse team, she brought the team together.
“I think Coach Fraser sees that what this activity really did was it showed the power of [the] team, and it really brought the team together. It gave them a lesson of teamwork off the field. This wasn’t just about moving the lacrosse ball up the field and then scoring a goal. This was about doing something as a team in a deeper humanity sort of way,” Schottland said.