GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Red and white — the Glenwood Springs High School colors — were joined by a sea of gray on Saturday at Chavez-Spencer Memorial Gymnasium.
The gym was awash with gray. Players wore it. Coaches wore it. Parents wore it. Even people with no ties to either basketball team other than sheer interest in the teams playing wore it.
That extra color came from T-shirts. On the back, the shirts said, among other things, “One family, one fight.” The most symbolic item was on the front, which had a Glenwood Springs Demons logo on it and read “Denney’s Demons.”
“That’s what we are,” senior girls basketball player Delaney Gaddis said. “We’re Denney’s Demons.”
All of this was a show of support for GSHS Athletic Director Craig Denney, who has been in an ongoing battle with Burkitt’s lymphoma since the middle of November. It’s a show of support that has only built momentum since word of Denney’s diagnosis went public, and it continues to gain traction as word of his treatment and progression are known.
“It’s incredible the amount of support he’s gotten, but it’s also well-deserved,” Glenwood girls basketball coach Jacky Gaddis said.
Denney has served as the school’s athletic director for the past six years and has also served as the school’s football coach. He has been undergoing chemotherapy treatment since his initial diagnosis, and his final stretch of scheduled treatment came at the end of January.
Support has come in more forms than just T-shirts, though. Cards, flowers and gifts have been sent to Denney and his wife, Ann, over the past two months. Messages have been left on the Denney’s social media account at www.caringbridge.org, which was set up since Denney’s treatment was very exhaustive.
One of the biggest visits, however, was a surprise visit from the boys and girls basketball team prior to their game at Eagle Valley on Jan. 24. Denney was brought out onto the balcony at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs when his doctors said he “needed some sun.” While sitting out there, both teams came to encourage him from the hospital parking lot, holding up signs while cheering loudly.
“I think that hit him pretty hard how much all of us really do care about him,” Glenwood Springs High boys basketball coach Cory Hitchcock said. “Even though he might feel like he’s taking on this battle himself, we wanted to let him know that we’re all here for him and that we want to help him take on this battle head on.”
More recently, four Glenwood Springs High football players, who signed letters of intent to play college football this past Wednesday, displayed their support. At the signing ceremony done just before noon, Justin Barham, Garrett Lowe, Cole Adams and Henry Hill each held up signs that read things like “Get well soon, Mr. Denney,” and “We miss you, Mr. Denney!”
Members of both the boys and girls basketball teams, along with the GSHS girls swimming team, have drawn inspiration from wanting to perform for Denney. Girls swimming captain McKenzie Fuller said at the beginning of the season that the Demon swimmers, in their efforts to win a second consecutive Western Slope Championships title, said they wanted to do it for Denney.
Those efforts are appreciated, but they can also be counterproductive despite the positive results that each winter sports team has produces this season.
“I think the guys, they want to play for him so bad,” Hitchcock said. “Sometimes, when you want something so bad, you tend to try to do too much. I think that sometimes, we do that.”
Some of those emotions were never higher than they were this past week.
One week after Denney was released from the hospital from his chemotherapy treatment, he was readmitted to Valley View with a 105-degree fever. Doctors said they believed a strep infection from his chemotherapy port was the cause, and he was placed in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
According to posts updated by Ann on Denney’s caringbridge.com account, the strep virus went septic, and kidney issues also became a problem. “We draw upon you for strength and prayer as his condition is critical. Please pray for recovery,” Ann wrote.
Within a day, however, Ann posted another update. She said that within 15 minutes after a gamut of friends and family had read her post, Craig Denney’s vitals were very good and his fever was gone.
“For those of you who believe in Angels, that is my testimony,” Ann wrote.
Craig Denny remains in the Valley View ICU under observation. His time to return to his job as Glenwood’s AD — initially anticipated for this week — has been postponed until at least March.
In the meantime, assistant principal Gayla Rowe said the school staff and students will continue to support Denney for as long as it takes for him to recover. The school’s spring sports programs also anticipate getting on board with the school’s support crew.
Meanwhile, Glenwood’s athletes and staff alike have put all of the recent events surrounding Denney in perspective.
“Regardless, win or lose, Denney will be proud of us,” Hitchcock said. “He doesn’t care about the wins and losses. He just cares about that everyone will be coached and taught to be great young people.
“Sometimes, when our guys push too hard, I have to remind them that this is a game,” Hitchcock continued. “What [Denney] is doing is real life.”