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'Her community is behind her'

A Mitchell High School senior is going the extra mile to help lift the spirits of a classmate who was diagnosed with cancer in October. Wyatt Smith, a member of the MHS basketball team, and his mom, Stephanie, are organizing an event to honor Ale...

A Mitchell High School senior is going the extra mile to help lift the spirits of a classmate who was diagnosed with cancer in October.

Wyatt Smith, a member of the MHS basketball team, and his mom, Stephanie, are organizing an event to honor Alexis Mentzel at the team's home game on Jan. 29 against Brandon Valley.

"I decided over Christmas break that, because she's not doing great, we can do something this basketball season to honor her," Wyatt said.

Mentzel, a sophomore at MHS, was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin's Lymphoma-Bulky-a cancer that begins in the white blood cells, according to the American Cancer Society-on Oct. 23, and is undergoing bi-weekly chemotherapy treatments at Sanford Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls.

Prior to the boys varsity game on Jan. 29 at the Corn Palace, Smith said the team will honor Mentzel and present her with an assortment of "surprises."

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Also before the game, Stephanie will give out purple pom poms, sell bracelets for $1 and give away T-shirts with the teen's motto, "Lexi Strong," printed on them. Free will donations will be accepted.

The basketball team will wear the shirts as their warm-ups and will wear purple socks. The color purple, Smith said, signifies awareness for all blood cancers, including Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Stephanie said the Corn Palace will be selling purple popcorn balls, and the game's programs will be printed with a purple cover, rather than the usual gold.

The mother-son duo came up with the idea less than two weeks ago and began making phone calls to see if any local businesses and organizations would be willing to help. Many were.

"Everybody's done just a little bit here and a little bit there," Stephanie said. "It's been a real community-driven effort."

The Mitchell You'll Never Walk Alone foundation purchased the pom poms, and, with the help of Hollywood Styles, warm-up T-shirts for the basketball team. The Framer and the Optimist Club donated the framing for an inspirational poem Mentzel wrote. Make It Mine Designs created a collage that will be on display during the game.

"It's nothing fancy, it's just something we've put together to honor her and let her know her community is behind her," Stephanie said.

A friend and distant relative of Mentzel, Smith said hearing of Mentzel's diagnosis was difficult to process.

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His mom agreed. But the pair was hesitant to put on such a large event.

"Lexi was kind of having a hard time with just the fact that she has cancer and didn't want a lot of attention drawn to her," Stephanie said. "But I talked to her mom about Wyatt's idea and she said Lexi would love it. Then it all just kind of fell together."

Inspired by Mentzel's positive outlook, Stephanie said, the family is holding on to every piece of positive news that they receive. Mentzel has also shown an "amazing amount" of maturity and faith during a difficult time, drawing attention from the Mitchell community and surrounding areas.

A fundraiser created on Nov. 23, a month after Mentzel's diagnosis, on the website gofundme.com, had raised $2,620 as of Friday afternoon.

"She's a super, super grounded, good, faith-driven young lady-mature beyond her years," Stephanie said. "She's so strong."

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