On Thursday morning, hundreds gathered on Shark Field, clad not in the Tiger Sharks’ purple and yellow, but in black and orange, the colors of another team to which they wanted to show their support.
There, every student at Port St. Joe Elementary, elected officials and dozens of locals took fifteen minutes to lift Baylee Rish up in their thoughts and prayers, hoping show the community’s solidarity with the third grader and her family after her leukemia diagnosis this past winter.
“Earlier this year, Baylee was diagnosed with Leukemia, and since then, she has been the most courageous warrior I know,” said PSJES principal Jessica Brock, addressing the crowd. “Today, we are here to lift her up, build her up, motivate her to keep being courageous and to keep fighting.”
“Many of us are wearing our ‘Team Baylee’ shirts, and that’s what we are. We’re a team. And teammates build each other up.”
The T-Shirts are being sold as part of a fundraiser organized by Baylee’s second cousin, Bridget Birmingham, to help Baylee’s family cover medical expenses.
According to Birmingham, almost 500 shirts have now been sold, all sporting a bright orange unicorn design sketched out by Baylee herself.
“Baylee and myself and her mother and her brother all kind of doodled out some designs, and then we turned it over to the professionals who could make it into what it is,” said Blake Rish, Baylee’s father. “And the folks at Ramsey’s (printing) went above and beyond helping us with that.”
The crowd gathered on the football field erupted into chants of “Team Baylee” before Mary Lou Cumbie and Wanda Bailey took to the microphone to lead the group in prayer.
“We gathered here today because as a community, we want to pray for Bayee and here family,” said Cumbie. “And I want to say, we’re not here just as a token. We’re not here to impress anybody. We’re not here so we can say Gulf District Schools gathered on the football field and prayed…”
“What the family wants is for us to pray and believe for a turnaround.”
Those looking to contribute to Baylee’s fundraiser for her ongoing cancer care can make a donation directly to a benefit account set up in her name at Centennial Bank.