Oakland Mills High unites in support of ill alumna

She lost her hands, feet after getting meningitis

May 23, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

When she was going to school in Howard County, Rayna DuBose loved playing basketball, being around people and having a good time.

So how better to get her friends, family and neighbors together in her honor than to hold a barbecue, basketball game and shoot-out contest in the Columbia community she still calls home: Oakland Mills.

That's what members of the Oakland Mills High School community thought when they imagined the perfect fund-raiser for the 2001 graduate and former star basketball player who went to Virginia Tech last fall on the high tide of a promising future but was hit hard by unexpected tragedy.

DuBose's parents recently told friends that the 18-year-old has been recovering in a Virginia hospital after complications from meningococcal meningitis led to gangrene and amputation of her hands and feet.

"It's unfair," said Marcus Lewis, DuBose's basketball coach her last two years at Oakland Mills. "She was probably the best player to play the game in Oakland Mills as a female."

"They say now they're just taking baby steps with her progress," said Maxine Beale, an academic mentor at Oakland Mills who is organizing much of the fund-raising effort to help DuBose and her parents.

Friends, neighbors and former schoolmates, teachers and coaches are hoping to raise $25,000 to assist the family with medical bills and living expenses.

Private donations have been trickling in. Oakland Mills students have had collections during lunch periods. About $800 was collected at a May 9 track meet. A little more than $900 was collected at a meet Saturday.

Some seniors have sent out requests in their commencement announcements that donations -- instead of graduation gifts -- be sent on DuBose's behalf.

"That is very powerful to us, that kids would even do that," Beale said. "People are just trying to do anything we can to help the family."

But people who really know DuBose, and her fun-loving, outgoing spirit, wanted to do more -- something big and fun and physical, where there'd be lots of people and lots to do -- the way DuBose would like it.

So they've organized a charity function, to be held June 11 at Oakland Mills, that will resemble a mini county fair. In addition to a walk-a-thon, baseball game, shoot-out competition and possible slam-dunk contest, friends of DuBose persuaded the staff at one of Baltimore's hottest hip-hop stations, WERQ-FM, to come and play former and current Oakland Mills athletes in a high-stakes basketball game.

Owen Brown middle school pupils will sell cotton candy, and agencies will set up information booths on meningitis and other heath-related topics, Beale said.

They are looking for sponsors for food and other donations to offset their costs so that more of the proceeds can go to DuBose.

"The education piece is going to be, of course, free, because we're trying to get information out about meningitis," Beale said.

No one seems sure how DuBose contracted meningitis -- the bacterial infection last month that led to the inflammation of fluids surrounding her brain and spinal cord.

And those who know her are trying to make sense of the shock that after recovering for nearly a month in bed, circulatory problems led to gangrene -- and then the amputations.

So with few answers, the Oakland Mills community is going to root hard for DuBose, the same way it did when she was leading them to state championships four years ago.

"Rayna just has this special quality where people just gravitate toward her," Lewis said.

"Some people have that quality, and she's one of them. She gave a lot of her time to other people ... and I guess you're seeing the outcome of that."

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