Ricky Knight, a 12-year-old boy who never lost his sense of humor, determination or love of sports while battling brain cancer for more than a year, died of the disease Monday.
Ricky, a sixth-grader at Elkridge Landing Middle School, was diagnosed with the cancer in April 2007. After a grueling summer of surgeries and treatment, he played football in the fall with the Elkridge Hurricanes. His father, Rick Knight, described the game as "good therapy," and coaches and teammates marveled at the boy's courage.
Ricky had more surgery and chemotherapy in January, and an MRI on April 28 gave the family hope that the tumor had shrunk, said his mother, Rose Napolitano. But Ricky still felt sick, so his parents took him to the emergency room May 31.
There, he had an MRI that revealed the worst possible news - the tumor had grown aggressively in the short time since the last test. He died within days.
Napolitano said she has been comforted by the outpouring of support from family and friends. "We think he was pretty special, but how everybody else recognized that in him has been great for us," she said.
Ricky's principal at Elkridge Landing, Thomas Saunders, said the sixth-grader "never lost his sense of humor or the sparkle in his eye."
Saunders said he learned of Ricky's death early Monday morning. Teachers delivered the news to students in their homeroom classes, and told them a crisis team of counselors and psychologists had been made available.
"We read a statement explaining as much information as we had at that point," he said.
About 25 students on Monday and five yesterday were seen by the crisis team, said Saunders.
"This is a pretty popular kid," Saunders said. "We didn't know what kind of impact we'd have." He expects students to seek counseling and comfort again next week, after the funeral Saturday.
"For middle school kids, giving them an opportunity to express what they're feeling is important," he said. "They're at an age where they really can express it."
Though Ricky, who was featured in a Howard Sun article in September about his battle, had received home and hospital instruction over the past several months, he would still come to school occasionally for visits, Saunders said. The two would joke about their shared affection for the Redskins, an anomaly in a Ravens-loving school district.
Saunders described Ricky as a hero, a person who was friends with everyone.
"The stories yesterday, as kids were talking, there was just nothing that he ever did that was unkind," Saunders said. "He was just one of those people - he was courageous, he was strong, kind, and full of faith.
"Whenever a hero leaves us, he's never replaced," Saunders added. "You remember him forever."