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Cooper's Army Keeps Legacy Alive

It's every parents' nightmare. Their child receiving a cancer diagnosis. One Evansville family is looking to turn their tragedy into other families' triumph.

Posted: Aug 25, 2021 5:44 AM
Updated: Aug 25, 2021 5:44 AM

"Have great positive emotions and great sadness," says Cooper Chapman's father Lonny Chapman.

"It's been so positive," says North High School women's soccer coach Kayla Smith.

"You know, there's a lot of emotions that go along with these events," says Cooper Chapman's mother Nikki Chapman.

Green is a popular color at any North High School athletic event. However, this soccer match is different. These shirts pay tribute to Cooper Chapman, a young Evansville boy, diagnosed with Rhabdo myosarcoma, a rare childhood cancer that develops in the soft tissue of the body at the tender age of 9. That's when Cooper and his family made the trek down to St. Jude Children's hospital in Memphis.

"His initial treatment in 2018, we were there on campus for 54 weeks," says Lonny. "Then we had another 12 weeks back and forth with maintainence. Then we spent about six months at home. He was classified as "no evidence of disease". After that six months, we found another lump on his lower back . And he went through another 14 months of treatment."

Despite the love and devotion of his parents, Lonny and Nikki and his brother Eli, along with the hard-working staff at St. Jude, Cooper ultimately lost his valiant fight in April of this year at the tender age of 12.

"He just loved life in general," says Nikki. "He always found a way to laugh and have fun, even when he was not feeling do hot. He always found a way to enjoy life. So he was very inspirational kid, when it came to that."

"He was really fun and kind of the kid that like would be kind of like a smart aleck, very cheerful and very fun," says Cooper's brother Eli Chapman. "Not saying he was the best brother. But he was a really great brother."

And that's where the story could have ended, however Cooper's Army continues to carry the banner, planning fundraising events like the "Kicking for Cooper" game between the North and Central girls soccer teams last week.

"We were sitting at the funeral, and just gut-wrenching," says Smith, "and the family just talked about how much they wanted to promote St. Jude and tell Cooper's story and get that out. So we're sitting at the funeral and I'm wondering, "what can we do". This is much bigger than soccer today, but it's one outlet that where we can spread Cooper's story and also promote St. Jude and all the fantastic stuff they do at the research hospital."

At halftime, the Chapman's were join on the field by the family of a St. Jude success story. Jenaynn Gates has been cancer-free since 2010. And That's what keeps the Chapman's going.

"It wasn't until we got on campus that we learned that we will not receive a bill for treatment while Cooper was there," says Lonny. "For the first part of his treatment, we were in a two bedroom apartment in Memphis and we didn't pay for that."

"Our experience with St. Jude was incredible," says Nikki. "They were our family. They became our family. In the midst of even the hardest days of treatment, that was our family. The one thing Cooper would always say when he was asked about treatment was that it was fun. He enjoyed being there. That was his safe place. They treated the whole family. So it wasn't just treating Cooper, it was treating the whole family. There were things for siblings. There were things for parents. We formed a community there that is forever bound together through childhood cancer."

Now adding to the bitter sweetness of this event is the fact that it comes on the eve of what would have been Cooper's 13th birthday. But what more fitting a setting than a soccer pitch. A game that Cooper loved to play.

"He loved to do any activity outside," says Lonny. "Loved to run so soccer was a sport he just loved to play. Whether it's a pick-up game or just out in the yard. Whatever involved running and soccer was something that he could kick and run and do a little bit of everything."

"Soccer can be so much more than soccer, right," says Smith. "It's a game. Obviously we want to win, but it's really improtant to me that these girls have an opportunity to get involved with something Like St. Jude that does something great for the communtiy and affects different families here."

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Temperatures dipped back into the upper 30s and low 40s for many of us early this morning, marking our coldest start to a day in Evansville (where we fell to 41°) in more than a week. Fortunately, the chilly start to the day didn't mean that our afternoon would be a loss, it was anything but - in fact, after seeing temperature around 57° by our lunch hour, afternoon highs crept back into the mid to low 60s area-wide; we hit 63° in the River City - while that's still 2° shy of the norm for October 27th, we'll take a 3° increase over yesterday's high of 60°. The clear skies that allowed temperatures to climb as high as they did earlier on however, are on their way out as our next round of rainfall inches ever closer. The remainder of the evening ahead should remain dry, but isolated rainfall will return to the Tri-State as early as the overnight and predawn hours Thursday.
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