Seymour volleyball hosts Lei Out Cancer night as community rallies around principal

Seymour High School Principal Greg Prange felt like he was in a movie.

More specifically, the scene Monday night inside the Lloyd E. Scott Gymnasium reminded him of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Prange was playing the role of George Bailey, surrounded by friends, family and even strangers who were there to support him.

Seymour hosted Hauser on Monday for a nonconference volleyball game, and the meaning behind the match went deeper than the final score.

The theme of the match was “Lei Out Cancer.” In February, Prange was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Attendees of the match were encouraged to wear purple or their favorite Hawaiian shirt as they packed the bleachers to show support for Prange and others battling pancreatic cancer and raise money for the Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center in Seymour.

Players, coaches and fans from both Seymour and Hauser donned purple shirts, Hawaiian gear, bracelets, bandanas and more as they managed to raise more than $1,600.

“That’s very special. It reminds me a lot of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” Prange said. “The people around here know that I’ve got troubles and I’ve got issues. In ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ when George was in trouble, people didn’t ask any questions. They just came and donated money and gave what they needed. Monday night, Hauser didn’t know me. They were so kind and so thoughtful, and I know that their fans were the same way. It was very heartwarming. I’m very proud to be in that big picture we all took at the end.”

‘I am a survivor, and I want to keep it that way’

Last November, Prange went to the doctors for a scan, and everything was normal.

In February, he got the exact same scan, and that’s when the doctors discovered the tumor.

“It was by accident,” Prange said. “This particular tumor was not visible on a scan I had in November. It was not there in November, but they found it in February. They were not looking for pancreatic cancer.”

Forty years ago, Prange was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He was able to get completely cured from that. But the news he received this past February hit him a little differently.

“When I was first diagnosed, I went home, I crawled into bed and I cried for two hours,” he said. “I had always heard that pancreatic cancer was a death sentence.”

But Prange shifted his mentality. He beat a different kind of cancer 40 years ago, and he hopes to do it again.

“I prayed and I decided that this is not the way it’s going to be,” he said. “I want people to know I am a survivor, and I want to keep it that way. I’m fortunate, and I want to continue to work for the betterment of our community and our kids and bring everything I can to the table. That’s just the way it’s going to be until I’m told otherwise.”

Prange is in his 39th year at Seymour High School. He spent 15 years as a teacher, seven years as assistant principal and is now in his 17th year as principal. He also graduated from SHS in 1979.

Prange jokes that he can’t seem to get away from there, but the reality is he doesn’t want to.

Even now, going through chemotherapy every other week, he insists on being in the building and fulfilling his role as principal.

“I’m here most days, even through the treatments,” he said. “I’ve got a great staff here at the building. The days immediately following treatment are tough because I don’t sleep at night because of the steroids they’ll give me. I’ve got the love and support of my entire staff and faculty. They’re the best there is.”

The support is something Prange struggles to put into words when talking about how much it means. That starts with his wife, Jill.

She takes time off of work to accompany Greg on his chemo treatments, which are every other Wednesday. She sits by his side for nine hours and just reads.

“She deserves a gold medal,” Greg said. “She is my rock. Any time I break down, she puts me back together.”

Then there’s the support around the community over the last seven months, which is something that still amazes Prange today.

“It’s difficult to describe how much my family, my school, my staff, my students, my community — I can’t put in words what they mean to me,” he said. “Ever since I’ve been diagnosed, the cards, the letters, the emails, the Facebook posts, I go back and reread those, the support that they’ve given me. All the churches, the prayers. This is a public high school, but I’ll tell you what, there’s an awful lot of prayers that take place in this building. This whole situation has strengthened my faith even more.”

Just on routine trips to the grocery store, Prange can recall numerous exchanges with people. Someone will come up to him and say, “Hi, Mr. Prange,” or “Are you Mr. Prange?” And they’ll tell him, “We’re praying for you.”

The head official during Monday’s volleyball match, who Prange has never met, told him, “I’m praying for you every day.”

“It means the world to me,” Prange said. “Knowing that people care, it’s very humbling.”

His cancer has not been staged yet. Prange said that happens right before surgery.

He was scheduled to get surgery Aug. 4, right before the school year started. At the time, he had taken six rounds of chemo. They did a scan and found the tumor was still too close to the celiac artery, so they wanted to postpone the surgery until Prange went through six more rounds of chemo to try to shrink it more and get it away from the artery.

He’s in the middle of that right now. Prange goes to therapy every other Wednesday, and this week, he had round No. 10.

“We’ve caught it early, and we’re hoping the prognosis stays good,” he said.

‘We wanted him to feel the love and support of everyone here’

The Seymour volleyball team always has one match each season that is dedicated to raising money in the fight against cancer.

Ever since finding out about Prange’s diagnosis, the girls on the team had been working on putting together this event for him.

“We’ve been working on this since the preseason, and we wanted to do something special for Mr. Prange,” head coach Angie Lucas said. “It was totally driven by the girls. They wanted to show him their love and support, and I’m all for it. He’s the principal of our school, and I wanted him to feel that support from all of us.”

Prange first heard of the idea from Dr. Eric Fish, who is the father of senior Olivia Fish. Prange never wanted to be the center of attention, but he agreed to let the Owls put on this night.

Hawaiian day has always been Prange’s favorite themed dress-up attire.

“It reminds me of vacations,” he said. “You get to be my age, vacation is what you get to do in between your work sessions.”

Prange is a big sports fan. He used to be an assistant basketball and football coach at Seymour, and his son played football and baseball, while his daughter played volleyball.

He said every school year, he tries to get to at least one game for every Seymour sport.

“He’s the kind of person that puts everyone else’s needs in front of his,” Lucas said. “For one night, we wanted him to feel the love and support of everyone here and put his needs first.”

Prange definitely felt that love and support. By the time he walked through the doors Monday night, the whole place was filled with purple gear, “Prange’s people” bracelets, Hawaiian shirts and more.

Both Seymour and Hauser teams had purple “Lei Out Cancer” shirts on, and the student body for the Owls was dressed up in Hawaii attire.

Lucas said Hauser was excited to be part of this night, and Hauser’s athletic director, Tyler Phillips, used to teach at Seymour with Prange as principal.

After each player from both Seymour and Hauser was announced during the starting lineups, they ran over and gave Prange and his wife a fist bump as they were standing in front of the scorers table.

Right before the match started, Prange received a standing ovation from everyone in attendance. That’s when he let the emotion of the moment sink in. It was evident from the look on his face what it meant to him.

“Whenever I start talking about it, I get very emotional about the whole situation, not just my health but that they wanted to do something like this to promote the cancer center and honor me,” Prange said with a slight crack in his voice, holding back tears.

“It was just very humbling that they would want to do this and include me in this situation,” he said. “I’ve never sought out the limelight or wanted anything to be about me. It’s about our school, it’s about our kids, but it was very humbling. It was a great night. I’m very appreciative of everybody that had anything to do with it.”

There were stands on both sides of the hallways outside the gym that were taking donations for the Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center in Seymour.

The more than $1,600 raised showcased the turnout and support from everyone in attendance.

“The money that we raised is amazing and always very touching,” Lucas said. “I think he and Jill both felt it was such a wonderful night for them. I think he knows that he has the support, but when you see this many people here to support him, it makes a big difference. And people who are going through this battle, they need that support system, and we just wanted to be that for him tonight.”

There’s no doubt that Prange feels it. He feels it every time he sits in his office and sees his staff with custom-made shirts to support him. He feels it any time he walks the hallways in Seymour High School. He feels it any time a stranger approaches him at the grocery store.

Monday night was more than a match. It wasn’t just the girls on the court who were playing for Prange. It was everyone in attendance, everyone in the community, playing and praying for their principal.

“The kids and these people in this building are my second family,” Prange said. “I’ve been here for 40 years, and there are a lot of memories in these halls.”