For most teenagers in high school, senior year is one to remember. The parties. Prom. Athletics. All of it culminating in graduation in the spring.
Bishop Dwenger’s Hayden Smithey entered his senior year like any other teenager, full of energy and anticipation for memories to be made.
But late last fall, everything changed.
Hayden’s mom Amy Smithey has been a constant for him over the years. No matter where basketball has taken Hayden, mom has been there. But when Amy was diagnosed with breast cancer just before the high school basketball season began, the senior who was to be a team leader for the Saints had his life turned upside down.
“It is always hard to have a family member go through something so physically and emotionally draining as breast cancer treatment,” said Smithey, who will play in the Nancy Rehm Borders Wars on Sunday at the University of Saint Francis beginning with the girls game at 2 p.m. “It was mainly hard for me not only because of all the physical things my mom does for me, but also because my mom and I have always had a strong bond.”
Upon diagnosis, Amy immediately began radiation treatments to combat the cancer. While Hayden outwardly had the appearance of a normal teenager balancing school and athletics, inwardly he was worrying about his mother.
On the court, there were times that Hayden looked out of sorts. A pre-season all-area consideration, the senior forward was one of the few quality posts in a conference void of established big men outside of Sydney Curry at Northrop. But bigger things were going on in Smithey’s life.
Bishop Dwenger coach Matt Kostoff has high praise for how Hayden has handled the last several months.
“My wife has battled breast cancer, but I can’t imagine going through it as a 17-18 year old,” Kostoff said. “He and his mom are very close and I know it was difficult to see her go through the treatments. Then he had the pressures that come with being a team leader and trying to figure out his college plans.
“He handled things a lot better than I would have at his age.”
Hayden handled the emotions as best he could. He put together a solid senior year on the court, averaging 13 points and 4.5 rebounds for Bishop Dwenger. He was voted All-SAC First Team twice in his career and was also recently named IBCA Academic All-State First Team, one of just 39 in the entire state.
The Saints finished the season with a 12-11 record. Amy got to as many games as she could despite the radiation treatments taking their toll.
“The toughest part for her had to be when her illness kept her from one or two of our games,” Hayden said. “But she was always ready for a follow-up talk about the night’s game.”
Hayden also continued to put extra work in on his craft. During ISTEP testing earlier this month, most students had two-hour delays, but Hayden used that time to get shots up in the gym.
The work over the last few months and years has been rewarded as Smithey will be a member of the Saint Francis Cougars men’s basketball team next season, joining the likes to fellow Fort Wayne products Jalan Mull (Blackhawk Christian), Brandan Johnson (North Side) and David Ejah (Carroll).
“I think the hometown players really bring a Fort Wayne-Saint Francis pride to the powerhouse program,” Hayden said.
As Hayden is moving on to a new challenge, Amy is just completing arguably the biggest test of her life. She just finished her final radiation treatment with the hope that the breast cancer will be eliminated.
As the Smithey family looks forward, they also can’t help but look back.
“What really stood out to me was my mom’s resilience throughout the whole process and the generous help my family received from neighbors and the Dwenger community,” Hayden said. “Everyone on the team this season gave back to our family all year and the ‘Pink Out’ night against East Noble (on Feb. 6) truly showed how special it is to be a part of the Bishop Dwenger family and basketball program.
“I can’t thank everyone enough for what they have done for me.”