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La Conner student named honorary player

December 24, 2018
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La Conner High School sophomore Danny Rapada (right) lines up after being introduced with the varsity boys’ basketball team Tuesday. Rapada was made an honorary member of the basketball team as part of the Key Club’s “Winter Wishes” program.

LA CONNER — At La Conner middle and high schools this month, the student-led Key Club has been making sure students are filled with holiday cheer.

For the second year, the club has been granting what it calls “Winter Wishes,” where any student can make a wish and students in the club will do their best to grant it.

For sophomore Danny Rapada, who has been battling a series of illnesses for several years, that meant becoming an honorary member of the varsity boys’ basketball team.

“We want to make him feel involved in school as much as possible,” said senior Sophia Benetti, president of the Key Club.

Before his illness, Rapada played football, basketball and baseball. Football and basketball are the ones he misses most, he said.

To raucous applause and cheering last week, Rapada, in a wheelchair and wearing a No. 45 jersey, was rolled onto the court alongside his classmates.

“What’s really special about it is when the students have the opportunity to be involved in something bigger than themselves,” said Principal Todd Torgeson. “There’s not a lot of places in society where that happens now.”

When the Key Club asked boys’ basketball coach Todd Hinderman about allowing Rapada to be an honorary part of the team, Hinderman said he and the team agreed “in a heartbeat.”

“It’s why you do sports,” Hinderman said. “To give kids opportunities.”

Rapada’s chances of walking onto the court on his own and playing with his classmates were dashed three years ago when he was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare blood disease that can cause uncontrolled bleeding and a higher risk of infections, said his mother Sally Wilbur.

While at Children’s Hospital in Seattle awaiting a diagnosis, Rapada hit his head, leading to a concussion and the eventual removal of part of his skull, Wilbur said.

For the first few days, she said her son’s condition was critical. Doctors thought he might not survive.

“The doctor came out and told me to be prepared for him to not make it,” Wilbur said.

Since then, Wilbur said Rapada has been dealt one medical blow after another: a stroke, a respiratory infection, kidney failure and a bone and joint disease caused by chemotherapy and radiation.

Six months ago he entered hospice, she said. But he keeps fighting.

“I don’t think he’s going anywhere,” Wilbur said. “He’s such a strong kid.”

Wilbur said it was nice of the students and school to do something like this for her son.

“It’s heartwarming,” Wilbur said. “The community has been this supportive since day one.”

Rapada said he hasn’t been able to attend school as much as he’d like, but after the new year he hopes to come back to school, sports and his friends.

Eventually, Wilbur said Rapada would like to play in the Special Olympics.

But for now, he is a Brave.

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