July 2, 2014
"Jaxon said his favorite part was shooting basketball on the real court. They lowered the goal to about four feet or lower so it was easy for him to shoot and dunk. His second favorite part was wearing the big orange shoes that were used by Jarnell Stokes last season."
- Cameron Lale
Five-year-old Jaxon Lale may not yet fully understand the game of basketball, but one thing is certain: When he and his father watch Tennessee games on television, he knows to hoot, holler and cheer for the guys wearing orange.
On Monday, June 2, Jaxon had a chance to meet Vols head coach Donnie Tyndall as well as several of the players he and his father so often cheered for during the season. And from that day forward, the guys wearing orange will most certainly be cheering for Jaxon.
Having already gone through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, Jaxon is battling T-cell leukemia. He began receiving treatment within a week of his March 24 diagnosis.
"He's his normal self, just like any other 5-year-old, except he's bald-headed," Jaxon's father, Cameron Lale, said.
Back in May, an organization called Knoxville Pays It Forward was organizing a carnival to benefit a few local families with children battling cancer, and the organization was searching for items to auction off as fundraisers.
"I was cutting my grass one day, and I thought, `Hey, I wonder if I could get something from one of the (UT) coaches, because everybody in Knoxville loves Tennessee stuff,'" Cameron Lale said. "So I got online and emailed all the coaches, and I got an email back from (director of basketball operations Justin Phelps). He said coach Tyndall would love to donate a ball, but the only condition was that he wanted Jaxon to come down there and pick it up."
So the Lales, who live in Knoxville, waited for a day on which Jaxon felt well enough to make the trip to campus following his treatment at East Tennessee Children's Hospital, where his mother, Tiffany, is a nurse.
Just a few days after his initial conversation with Phelps, Cameron--who is an active Air Force service member stationed at McGhee Tyson Airport--called the basketball office after Jaxon's daily treatment, and said Jaxon was ready to stop by.
"I never thought we'd be able to just walk right into the coach's office and talk to him. We're just regular civilian people. Then when we got there the whole staff was just like, `Hey, how are you doing?' They were just normal guys. Coach Tyndall sat down and hugged my son; he is just a normal guy."
Likewise, Jaxon approaches each day like a normal kid. The recent kindergarten graduate loves Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and building with Legos.
"He gets done with his chemo or radiation or whatever treatment he has for the day, and he gets home and he wants to go outside," Cameron Lale said. "So we've been really lucky that he hasn't been really sick; he's felt sick a few times but nothing major."
Jaxon received a VIP tour of Tennessee's basketball facilities and took pictures with Tyndall and some of the players, such as rising sophomore guard Robert Hubbs III.
In addition to the ball he picked up for the carnival auction, Jaxon also got to take home a ball that he keeps in his room. He also enjoyed taking pictures on the giant orange "T" in the middle of the Vols' locker room floor.
The carnival and auction were both very successful and helped to raise cost-of-care funds for the Lales and two other families facing similar cancer-related battles.
"Getting that ball helped out our family and two other families as well," Cameron Lale said.
Anyone interested in following Jaxon's progress or sharing well wishes with Jaxon and his family are encouraged to like the "Prayers for Jaxon" page on Facebook.
His page has more than 2,500 "likes" so far, but we're confident Tennessee fans can help boost that number and provide tremendous encouragement for such a special Vol.