SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. – The Central Valley Girls’ Basketball team has won two championships in three years in vastly different ways.
The 2018 win for Freddie Rehkow's group brought more substance to a trophy that looks exactly the same. The love is stronger in their hugs because they have struggled because he has struggled.
"Through adversity we learn a lot of things," Freddie said.
The Bears are 81-1 in three years, and while that one loss taught them humility, it is the loss they did not suffer, which gave them strength.
"Last year, if we're being up front, those girls probably helped save his life," Freddie explained.
Central Valley's 2016 trip to Tacoma went exactly as planned on the court with three wins and one state championship. As for the Rehkow family behind the scenes, the travel took its toll on their youngest child, Cameron.
"I felt super sick, got to the Tacoma Dome and couldn't hold it in anymore and started throwing up," Cameron explained.
The 10-year-old was struggling and was continuously exhausted on a day-to-day basis.
"I came home and my dad asked me, why you're breathing so hard? I drove my bike home. Well were you riding fast? No. Are you sure? Yeah," Cameron said.
Just a couple of weeks after CV's championship win, Freddie and his wife Kim brought Cameron to the hospital on April 12 for some blood work.
"Wednesday was the day. I won't forget it. I get a phone call from Sacred Heart Children's Hospital saying they needed us to bring Cameron down to the children's hospital as soon as possible," Freddie said.
"Went to school the next day and got picked up. That's when I was getting really scared I thought something was really bad with me. Got back to see the doctors after about an hour of sitting and that's when he showed us the x-ray's and told me I had leukemia and that was probably the worst moment of my life. Just hearing I was diagnosed," Cameron explained.
Cameron would now begin to fight for his life.
"Our world stopped. State championship? Memory. Sports? Memory. Full focus was on him," his parents said.
The 29-day induction stage would begin immediately to try and kill the leukemic cells in the blood and bone marrow. Cam responded to chemo favorably and was able to move onto the next stage.
"For us, that was a miracle. First miracle was that he was alive. The second one was that he would not need radiation," his parents explained.
Despite the good news, Cameron, along with his family, recognized this was still just the beginning of a long road to recovery.
"It'll be one of the hardest things ever, that's for sure," Cameron said.
At first, they thought they would only spend 10 to 14 days in the hospital over the span of eight or nine months. With all the side effects Cameron had, they spent 75 nights in the hospital. Kim had to leave her job as a dental hygienist. Her sole responsibility was now to take care of Cam.
"What I expected as a childhood now feels like, it now feels weird knowing that other people and other kids don't have cancer and their lives to me, that sounds perfect," Cameron said.
Reality hit the Rehkow's hard.
"When a member of your family is diagnosed, the whole family is diagnosed," Freddie said.
That was clearly evident for Freddie, Kim and their three other boys, Austin, Ryan and Landon. But, family extended beyond the Rehkow household.
"Regardless of how tough and how strong we think we are, everybody needs somebody," Freddie explained.
The Central Valley Girls’ Basketball Team was ready to help their coach immediately entering the upcoming season. After an undefeated championship season, the girls wanted Cam on the bench whenever he was healthy enough to sit there. The girls made personalized handshakes with him. The team also dedicated the year to their coach's son.
"The fact that they're saying it for him, I think is their way of saying it for me too. Provide me strength. It says we know what you're going through, we got you. That was one of the hardest seasons I've ever had to go through," Freddie explained.
"I'm on the bench being able to be with all the girls being able to talk with them, it's really fun being able to know them," Cameron said.
Cameron could not make every game. His constant bouts of illness and never-ending appointments not only restricted him from getting to the bench, but he could not even attend school for the entire year.
"There were months where I felt like we didn't know where Cameron went--that's not Cameron. He was gone for a while," Kim said.
On those handful of occasions Cameron made it to the gym, the lovable prankster his parents know and love would come back with a huge smile.
"It's really fun. I mean, my dad even told me, he was telling me the girls were playing for me and that really makes me want to get better," Cameron said.
With Cam in their hearts, the girls marched on to another undefeated regular season. Central Valley was the clear favorite to repeat as champions and, for the first time since his diagnosis, Cam would leave Spokane, still aching, and make the trip to Tacoma to watch his favorite team win another title.
"I think the pinnacle of all this would be if we can take care of business and let him hold the Gold Ball, that would be, to me, the highlight of the year. I want him to experience that not because he's played the games, but he loves that team so much and they provide him that happiness. I want to see it," Freddie said.
A team that was ranked seventh in the country, a program that was on a 52-game winning streak was shocked in the 4A state quarterfinals. They lost: Bellarmine Prep 56 Central Valley 55.
"Perfect world, perfect finish we win it all. Cam's on top of the world, our girls are on top of the world. I'm on top of the world, but sometimes there's a greater plan," Freddie said.
Undeterred from defeat, the Bears got back to work. With Cam improving in his treatments, he earned the role of team statistician for the upcoming season.
"Knowing that they're inviting me on the bench and wanting me to come sit with them or whatever makes me feel really good," Cameron said.
It was officially time to leave 2017 in the past and progress forward into the future, together.
"The girls last year, they closed everything for Cam. This year we're not doing this for Cam. They gotta do it for themselves, for my family and for Cam it was awesome. Now it's time for Cam to cheer for them," Freddie explained.
Adversity quickly turned into advocacy efforts for Freddie and his team. In late December, CV held its first Cam Jam Clash for Cancer Tournament featuring the best teams in Washington. The Bears breezed by its competitors and beyond preparing for a postseason run, the tournament raised $6,000 for the Anna Schindler Foundation for Childhood Cancer as well as the Central Valley Invest Ed fund.
"Getting people to be aware cancer is a big thing. I just love knowing that people come out to support kids with cancer," Cameron explained.
One of the team's Central Valley played in that tournament was Woodinville. The Bears won that game by 17 points. These two would square off once again in Tacoma with a state title on the line. Central Valley won by 31 points.
"We were on a mission. I say sometimes it wasn't about redemption, but it was in a sense," Freddie said.
The Bears took home its second title in three years and did so in dominating fashion winning every single game by double-digits points.
"Sometimes, it's through that adversity you become stronger and I really believe that's what happened with this group," Freddie said. "To come together with him and embrace him--that was where my tears came from. To me, that was finally…to experience that pure joy and not have him being sick. That was pretty special."
The bridge from one championship to the next is finally complete. Two championships and two vastly different ways of getting there.
"Hopefully, these girls who have been through this journey with us will realize that it's a game. Love the game, but it's not everything. You can do amazing things when you're surrounded by amazing people."
Seven Central Valley girls experienced this journey from start to finish. Four of those 7 players are graduating this season. As for Cameron, he will stay in the maintenance phase of his treatment until August 1, 2019. All signs are pointing very well that he will be in full remission by that target date.
If you'd like to help children battling cancer visit one of these websites: