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Prep volleyball: Carlton volleyball team, community step up in time of need

The Carlton volleyball team, with assistance from the community, raised over $2,000 for Cloquet Middle School student Cayden Ragsdale.

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Cayden Ragsdale smiles for a photo on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2021, while at a restaurant in Rochester after undergoing a long week of radiation treatments at the Mayo Clinic. Contributed / Carrie Rice

A heartwarming tradition of giving continued into a third year at an Oct. 7 volleyball match between Carlton and Cook County at Carlton High School.

Through fundraising efforts organized by the Carlton volleyball team and coaching staff and assistance from the Carlton and Cook County communities, over $2,000 was raised for Cloquet Middle School student Cayden Ragsdale in his battle against brain cancer.

Carlton volleyball coach Barb Soukkala and assistant coach Danielle Rychlak have made it an ongoing tradition to select one community member or individual with ties to the volleyball team to assist with a cancer benefit for the past three seasons. At this year’s event, all of the money raised through concession stand sales, a donation bucket at the ticket table, as well as a 50/50 raffle, were donated to Ragsdale and his family to help pay for medical costs and travel expenses. Baked goods were also provided by members of the volleyball team to be sold at the concession stand.

The winner of the 50/50 raffle, a local eighth grade student, even gave his portion of the winnings back to the family.

“Anytime you have a child that is in need, people tend to really step up, and so the Carlton community really came through for them,” Soukkala said.

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Carlton volleyball team members Alexa Thompson, Rachel Schubitzke, Addy Midge, Madison Asleson, Holly Grondahl, Jaycee McMillen, Megan Matarelli, Eliza DeCaigny and Carly Parker pose for a photo with Anders Rice, Rick Rice, Carli Ragsdale, Ian Rice, Carmen Ragsdale and Lisa Runstrom after a match against Cook County on Monday, Oct. 7, 2021, at Carlton High School. The team raised $2,000 for Cayden Ragsdale, who was diagnosed with cancer. Contributed / Carlton Volleyball

Cayden’s mom, Carrie Rice, is a kindergarten teacher at South Terrace Elementary School and a 2002 Carlton High School graduate. Rice was a setter for the Bulldog volleyball team under Soukkala, which formed a bond that has continued to this day.

For Rice, the support from Soukkala, Rychlak and the entire Carlton community has been overwhelming.

“Volleyball meant so much to me going through high school, so it just meant even more that Barb and Danni (Rychlak) did that for my family (with) the fundraiser and all of the help from the community,” Rice said. “It was just an outpouring of love, and it just shows how strong of a community we have, and just when times get tough, how people just pull together for people in need.”

At the time of the match, Ragsdale was with his mom at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center in Duluth receiving two platelet transfusions and a blood transfusion after dealing with a fever. Though they weren’t able to take part in the special event in person, the pictures and messages Rice received were the next best thing.

“We were pretty bummed that we couldn’t make it, but a lot of people sent us pictures, and my family went in place of us. So, yeah, we were able to at least be there through pictures and through phone calls, which was the best step that could be at that time,” she said.

Ragsdale, a seventh grader at Cloquet Middle School, was diagnosed with a brain tumor at Essentia Health-St. Mary's Medical Center on May 19 after dealing with incessant headaches the week prior. Two days later, the diagnosis was confirmed at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.

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Ragsdale underwent brain surgery on June 9, where the tumor was removed. A biopsy revealed the tumor was cancerous, requiring radiation treatments at the Mayo Clinic over the course of the summer. After a proton radiation treatment on Aug. 17, Ragsdale was given five weeks off before his chemotherapy treatments began on Sept. 24 at Children’s Hospital.

In total, Ragsdale will undergo four rounds of chemotherapy treatments before his final push scheduled for Christmas Eve. Rice said the final treatment will be the greatest gift for Ragsdale and his family.

“There is no better Christmas present in the world than being past this nightmare. He is teaching us more than we could ever teach him,” Rice shared in an update on the "Support Cayden Ragsdale" GoFundMe page .

Donations can still be made to the family online by visiting gofundme.com and searching for "Support Cayden Ragsdale."

Reflecting back on the Oct. 7 benefit, Rice reiterated just how much the effort meant to her.

“(Soukkala) always, and will always, be a part of my life, and I am just so appreciative of her and Danielle for doing that for us. I know I keep saying that, but there’s just not enough thank yous for what they did, and I don’t think they’ll ever truly understand how meaningful that was to me,” Rice said.

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Carlton volleyball team members Alexa Thompson, Rachel Schubitzke, Addy Midge, Madison Asleson, Holly Grondahl, Jaycee McMillen, Megan Matarelli, Eliza DeCaigny and Carly Parker pose for a photo with Anders Rice, Rick Rice, Carli Ragsdale, Ian Rice, Carmen Ragsdale and Lisa Runstrom after a match against Cook County on Monday, Oct. 7, 2021, at Carlton High School. The team raised $2,000 for Cayden Ragsdale, who was diagnosed with cancer. Contributed / Carlton Volleyball

Related Topics: VOLLEYBALLCARLTON
Jake Przytarski is a reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal covering a mix of news and sports.
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