Category: inspiring stories

Western Pa. hoops coach, team motivated by his son's fight with rare illness

Jeff Ackermann has won 5 WPIAL basketball titles but he almost didn't coach this year because of what his 6-year-old son, Bryson, is battling. Jeff talks publicly for first time about how Bryson is doing, why he's coaching and gives a big thank you: https://t.co/0X5PmTiqTk
— Mike White (@mwhiteburgh) December 6, 2018

As the head coach of Pine-Richland High School (Gibsonia, Pa.) boys basketball team, Jeff Ackermann is one of the most decorated and successful high school hoops figures in the Keystone State. However, the five-time Western Pa. Interscholastic Athletic League champion and winner of over 300 games almost stepped down before this season due to his son’s illness.
Bryson Ackermann, a 6-year-old and first-grader, has acute flaccid myelitis (AFM), a rare polio-like illness that he contracted in mid-October. It left him unable to walk.
Mike White of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shares the Ackermann family’s touching and gut-wrenching story. Bryson Ackermann is currently in a rehabilitation center, the Children’s Home of Pittsburgh. As White writes, Jeff Ackermann and his wife, Jill, sleep in Bryson’s room almost every other night. The couple also has two other children, and Jeff is a teacher at Chartiers Valley High School (Bridgeville, Pa.).
Still, when the high school basketball season begins Friday night when Highlands High School (Natrona Heights, Pa.) visits Pine-Richland, Jeff Ackermann will be on the bench again. As he told White, the coach only decided two weeks ago to return. As it turns out, Bryson Ackermann is inspiring his dad to do what he has done for so many years.
“Just the things that Bryson is able to do motivates me,” Jeff Ackermann told the Post-Gazette. “Like when he was in the hospital, he had a breathing tube and couldn’t talk. He was able to come up with these hand signals that could let us know when he wanted something. He came up with them on his own.
“It’s pretty remarkable to watch him. He has no idea. He doesn’t know what AFM is. He doesn’t know why he could play basketball one day and two days later he couldn’t stand up any more. … No one is more tired than Bryson. He gets woken up on a nightly basis for treatments. He never gets more than three hours of sleep at a time. He has rehab every day from 8 to 4. But just how he is able to deal with everything is motivating to me.”
You can read more of White’s incredibly moving story here.

N.D. HS hockey team delivers flowers to opponent who lost mother to cancer

A North Dakota hockey team visited the home of a grieving opposing player hours before game time to deliver flowers and offer condolences.
As the Grand Forks Herald reports, Red River High School (Grand Forks) junior defenseman Tanner Bernhardson was preparing for his game against Sheyenne (West Fargo, N.D.) on Thursday afternoon. It had been just three days since Bernhardson’s mother, Pam, died after a two-and-a-half year battle with cancer.
While sitting at home Thursday afternoon, he got quite the surprise from an unexpected visitor. The Sheyenne team bus pulled up at his house at about 4:30 p.m. As the Herald reports, Sheyenne players filed out of the bus carrying flowers and brought them to Tanner at the front door, offering condolences.
The two teams were facing each other just a few hours later.
“Pretty incredible,” Tanner’s father, Duane, told the Herald. “We knew our hockey community was pretty strong. We met a lot of friends. We’ve been involved with hockey not only in Grand Forks but across the state. It’s something we’ve enjoyed because of the people and stuff like this.
“It’s a surprise, but it’s not, you know?”

Sheyenne hockey team delivers flowers for Red River player who lost his mother to cancer https://t.co/4uuicPGm24 pic.twitter.com/52r0KrjP9I
— Grand Forks Herald (@gfherald) November 30, 2018

Tanner Bernhardson told the Herald that the first two people he recognized walking up to the front door were Sheyenne head coach David Benson and junior defenseman Blaze Ackerland.
As it turned out, the visit from them opposition wasn’t the only surprise for the Bernhardsons on Thursday. While the Bernhardsons were at the rink watching Red River’s 8-0 win over Sheyenne, a number of hockey moms that knew the family from their youth hockey days went to their house, cleaned it from top-to-bottom and made sure they were stocked up on everything for the next month.
“The hockey community is the gift that keeps on giving,” Duane told the Herald.
Benson said the flower delivery was something the Sheyenne team did without hesitation.
“I think it’s just something you do,” Benson told the Herald. “It’s a good family. I’m a little hesitant to even talk to anybody about it. It’s not about us. It’s about the family.”
Pam Bernhardson’s visitation was Friday night, and the funeral service was held Saturday morning.