Three-year-old Tyler Regier, battling leukemia, gets a lift from SM East basketball team

Tyler and his mom in the SM East locker room.
Tyler and his mom in the SM East locker room.

Three-year-old Tyler Regier made his debut as an all-star with the SM East boys basketball team Friday night, introduced with the starting lineup.

“He’s had the time of his life,” his mother, Tina Regier, said of Tyler’s weekend basketball experience.

Tyler, who just turned 3 in November, was diagnosed with leukemia in May. His first rounds of chemotherapy did not get him into remission. A couple of weeks ago a match was found for a bone marrow transplant, which Tyler will undergo in early January at Children’s Mercy Hospital and Clinics.

Even facing all of that, on Friday night on the SM East basketball court Tyler was on top of the world.

“He was pretty excited,” Tina said. “He keeps going back to it.”

Tyler, she said, kept talking over the weekend about how the SM East players held him up so he could make a basket and how he got to run onto the court with the team. Basketball is his favorite sport and he got to meet the team in the locker room before the game.

Tina Regier teaches first grade at Briarwood Elementary and the night was even more special because a couple of the SM East players who escorted Tyler on the court were her students 11 years ago.

If his immune system is strong enough, Tyler will try to go to the tournament SM East will be playing in next. Then he will need to check in to the hospital a couple of days after Christmas. “He’s so happy to interact with other people,” Tina said. Unfortunately, his immune issues often don’t allow it.

Tyler’s all-star status with the SM East team is part of program called “Playing for Pinky Swear” which gives student athletes a chance to play for something bigger. Working with the Pinky Swear Foundation, the team adopts a Pinky Swear All-Star and fundraises through the year in the child’s honor. The Pinky Swear Foundation gives grants to families fighting pediatric cancer to pay for non-medical expenses. Money raised by the SM East team will go to the foundation to support families in the metro, not directly to Tyler’s family.

SM East Athletic Director Kelli Kurle worked with Nikol Terrill of Pinky Swear to put Tyler’s big night in motion after they met at an athletic director event in late October. A freshman football player had just been diagnosed with leukemia and it “hit close to home,” Kurle said. It all came together very quickly after that, she said. Girls basketball, softball and baseball also will be participating in the Pinky Swear program as well this year.

“I really want our athletes to build a relationship with this child,” Kurle said. “I also want them to play for something bigger than themselves or bigger than East. It also puts a face to cancer.  I feel our kids are great at raising money for cancer, but we needed it to be more personal than that. Now, having an athlete that’s been diagnosed the need to be involved and help provide some joy and monetary assistance is what’s been my motivation in this.”

Check out Tyler’s pre-game introduction directly below:

And the halftime presentation: