Maya Evans’ birthday has always been a big deal.
“The thing about Maya is … she made sure everybody knew it was her birthday,” said West Ranch lacrosse coach Leesa Chelminiak. “When it was her birthday, it was like a whole event.”
Although Evans, a former West Ranch lacrosse player, died of leukemia in May, her birthday remained a reason for celebration on Friday evening at West Ranch High School.
Former coaches, teammates, friends and family members gathered at West Ranch’s turf field to release glowing pink and black balloons at dusk in honor of Evans’ birthday.
Several people associated with West Ranch lacrosse including Evans’ mother, Nicole, arranged the event.
“I just was overwhelmed because of all the love that my daughter has been shown by her teammates in high school and just the community,” Nicole said. “And just to know that they loved her and wanted to do something and keep her memory alive was just overwhelming and I was very, very pleased.”
A crowd of slightly over 50 people carried balloons – some with birthday messages written on them – onto the turf.
After words from Chelminiak, West Ranch teacher Julie Chang and Nicole, the pink and black balloons floated towards the sky, carrying well wishes for Evans with them.
“(Nicole) wanted to make sure that there was pink, not orange,” Chelminiak said. “Maya, everything was orange for leukemia awareness, which was great, but Maya’s favorite color was pink. So today was about Maya.”
West Ranch girls lacrosse has permanently retired Evans’ jersey number, No. 30, and has started to give out a year-end award to the player with the most drive and passion. The Wildcats’ warmups and spirit wear will also be embroidered with a logo that includes an orange ribbon, a lacrosse stick in addition to Evans’ name and jersey number.
Nicole and her husband, Darryl, will continue to be involved in West Ranch lacrosse as well and have a son that will play for the boys varsity team in the upcoming season.
The family will keep Evans’ spirit alive in every way possible.
“Maya is a part of my soul, so every morning when I wake up, I’m just talking to her and just using her words and conversations as inspiration to live my life,” Nicole said.
“She cared about other people and would want me to get up and be of service to other people and so I try my best to be of service to other people that are in my life because that’s what she would want.”