March 25, 2016
The last year has been filled with fear and comfort for Dave Loos, the head basketball coach at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, and his family.
Two of Loos’ granddaughters – Olivia, a fourth grader at Immaculate Conception School in Clarksville and the daughter of Pam Loos, the preschool program director at the school, and Rhyan, the 6-year-old daughter of Loos’ son Brad, an assistant basketball coach at the University of Missouri – have been struck with life threatening illnesses.
“It’s been a long summer, fall and winter,” said Dave Loos, whose family have been parishioners at Immaculate Conception Church since he arrived in Clarksville to take over as the Austin Peay basketball coach 26 years ago.
But his granddaughters’ illnesses have prompted an outpouring of support from friends and strangers alike in Clarksville, Missouri and around the country.
“When something like this happens, you find out how many good people there are in the world,” Loos said. “We’ve gotten such great support, it’s been comforting. Not only in Columbia, Missouri, but also in Clarksville. The support’s been off the charts.”
The Loos family’s story, particularly that of Rhyan, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma last October, got a big boost when Dave Loos’ team rallied late in the season to squeak into the Ohio Valley Conference tournament as an eighth seed and then went on an improbable run to win it, securing a spot in the NCAA tournament field of 64 and a first-round matchup against number one seed Kansas. The Governors fell to Kansas, but the glow around their story remained.
“The team really did rally around Rhyan to make history in the OVC,” Pam Loos said. “That little girl gave inspiration like no other.”
“Her illness has coincided with the recent success of our basketball team, which has caught on with the media, which has been a really good thing,” Coach Loos said. The attention “has raised awareness all over the country about pediatric cancer. That’s been a real blessing as well. … The support from every corner has just been fantastic.”
The University of Missouri held a Rally for Rhyan game earlier this season, in which fans were admitted for free but were asked to make a donation to support the Loos family and pediatric cancer research. The game raised $50,000.
Austin Peay, where the basketball team began wearing “Rally for Rhyan” practice jerseys and the court was decorated with a “Rally for Rhyan” logo, also sponsored a “Rally for Rhyan” game during the season, and other teams in the Ohio Valley Conference offered their support.
So far, more than $200,000 has been donated; most of it will go to pediatric cancer research.
The year’s troubles began last June when Olivia, the daughter of the coach’s son Dave and Pam Loos, started experiencing pain in her legs. Doctors had little success diagnosing the problem, but when she started complaining about double vision, doctors realized she was suffering from bleeding in the brain and immediately sent her to surgery at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville.
Immaculate Conception parishioners and Olivia’s classmates and teachers at the parish school rushed to support her and the Loos family.
“I don’t think I cooked for three months,” Pam Loos joked. “It was an absolutely incredible, humbling experience.”
Olivia has recovered. “She’s doing well. We have no further appointments at (Vanderbilt),” Pam Loos said. However, doctors are still not sure what caused the bleeding, she added. “That’s the scary part.”
Last October, the Loos family got another shock when Rhyan, the daughter of Brad and Jen Loos, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. She’s undergone six rounds of chemotherapy and had surgery to remove a tumor from her kidney.
Again, people, both in Columbia, Missouri, where Brad is an assistant basketball coach, and in Clarksville, where he grew up and played for and coached for his father at Austin Peay, rallied to support the Loos family.
The Immaculate Conception community has responded with prayers, Pam Loos said, and after she told Immaculate Conception School first grade teacher Lisa Jasper about Rhyan, she had her class start praying for her every day.
“The school has been tremendous,” said Pam Loos, noting all the prayers, cards, and well wishes posted to the RallyforRhyan Facebook page.
The Loos family’s connection to Immaculate Conception School is deep. Coach Loos’ wife, Phyllis, was the first employee as it prepared to open in 2000, and Pam has been the preschool director since 2002. Her three children, Daniel, Olivia, and Katie Grace, have all been educated at Immaculate Conception.
“It’s been hard,” Pam Loos said of the illnesses of her daughter and niece. “Obviously seeing Olivia overcome hers and celebrating the small victories for Rhyan, we take every one we can get.
“She’s a very strong little girl,” she said of Rhyan. “She has a nation of people praying for her.”
The support from the parish and the family’s faith have been a comfort to his family, Coach Loos said. “No question, the faith has helped. I think that’s front and center.”