Ackerman, 17, a junior at Fruitport High School, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblasitc Leukemia on Nov. 1, which prevented her from playing on the Trojans’ varsity basketball team this winter.
Ackerman said she began treatments for the disease around Christmas time at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids and was just released a couple weeks ago.
With the persuasion of one of her close friends on the varsity team, Debbie Pekel, Ackerman joined the Trojans on the bench for their Class B district opener against Spring Lake. She received a warm ovation from the crowd as she was introduced prior to the starting lineups.
“I’m in this group (at the hospital) called the “Wolf Pack” and Debbie comes up and visits,” Ackerman said. “She was the one who asked me to sit with the team.”
The team gave her a varsity warm-up jersey to wear, while she donned a winter stocking cap, due to numerous chemotherapy treatments that have caused her hair to fall out.
Ackerman cheered on the Trojans to an impressive 49-44 victory — the first time Fruitport has defeated its rivals this season.
Fruitport coach Bob German said having Ackerman on the bench gave his team an emotional lift.
“I’m not sure how much (the team) paid attention to me during my pre-game speech,” German said. “Mariah walked into the locker room just when I was doing my pre-game talk and every single girl in there was just beaming. They were all really happy to see her there.”
The Trojans have honored Ackerman for several weeks by sporting orange shoe laces during their games.
“Orange isn’t my favorite color,” she said. “I just like bright colors.”
Another team, the Grand Valley State women’s basketball squad, has also paid tribute to Ackerman. Earlier this month, with Ackerman in attendance, the Lakers wore another one of her favorite bright colors — lime green warm-ups — prior to their game against Ashland.
The Lakers’ men’s and women’s doubleheader that evening was designated as a fundraiser for DeVos Children’s Hospital.
The GVSU women continue to keep in contact with Ackerman on her Facebook page and have called her an honorary member of the team.
For now, Ackerman hopes to continue to will Fruitport to a potential district championship. Asked if she’s bringing the Trojans some luck, she shrugged.
“I guess so,” she said with a grin.