8-year-old cancer patient Lacey Holsworth inspired a basketball team and a community
Many little girls dream of being princesses. St. Johns, Mich., resident and Spartan superfan Lacey Holsworth got to live it.
After a battle with a rare form of cancer, Holsworth died at home in her parents' arms at 11:13 p.m. Tuesday night, according to MSU Director of News Media for Athletic Communications Matt Larson. She was 8 years old.
“Princess Lacey” made national headlines during the past two basketball seasons for her friendship with MSU basketball forward Adreian Payne. She often referred to the 6-feet-10 senior as her “big brother.”
“Words can’t express how much I already miss Lacey. She is my sister, and will always be a part of my life,” Payne said in a statement Wednesday. “She said she liked me because of my smile, but it’s her smile that made America fall in love with her. I know she’s smiling and dancing in heaven right now. My princess is now an angel.”
Lacey’s relationship with Payne was a rallying cry not only for the basketball team last season, but for fans as well. Upon hearing of her death, a group of students organized a painting of the rock on Farm Lane in her honor on Wednesday night.
Hundreds of students assembled in tranquil silence, illuminating the spring night with handheld candles.
While driving past Breslin Center on Wednesday, public policy senior Brooke Corbin said she couldn’t help getting emotional thinking about Lacey.
“She was always so happy at Breslin, thinking about it gave me chills,” she said.
Brooke joined with a complete stranger, kinesiology junior Danielle Bott, to help set up the event to honor Lacey.
“Through all her struggles she never failed to have a smile on her face,” Bott said. “We can all learn something from her. For someone so little to go through such heartbreaking events and push through spoke volumes even though she didn’t have to say anything.”
Bott and others organized the event in less than 12 hours. The vigil included painting the rock, signing it and singing the alma mater. The event was supposed to start at 9 p.m. Wednesday night. By 8:30 p.m. over 100 people had already gathered to say goodbye to Lacey.
By the end of the night hundreds of students crowded the rock including men’s basketball players Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello, Brandon Dawson and Adreian Payne.
Payne signed the rock but declined to comment after the proceedings.
Head basketball coach Tom Izzo spoke to the crowd, telling the story of what Lacey said to her father after returning to Michigan with Adreian Payne after accompanying him to Dallas for the Final Four.
“She came back and said ‘Dad, I’m tired it’s time to go home,’” Izzo said while choking back tears. “Now she’s home.”
He added: “In 30 years, I’ve never been prouder of a group of students than I am now.”
Reaction has come pouring in from Spartan Nation and beyond. Early Wednesday morning, tweets of support came from basketball accounts from the University of Michigan, Nebraska and Purdue and others.
Athletic Director Mark Hollis also released a statement saying Lacey had a passion for life uncommon for someone so young.
“It’s remarkable how many lives Lacey touched in her short life here on earth. She had a zest for living and was so courageous in her battle against cancer,” he said. “Lacey captured the hearts of many people throughout our state and nation. All people had to see was that radiant smile that could light up an entire arena.”
In the end, one word has been used to describe Lacey over and over above all others: happy.
“She showed so much happiness for a little girl who shouldn’t be happy,” Corbin said. “We wake up every day and complain about homework and things like that, but we don’t wake up just hoping to get through the day.”
Funeral services will be held April 17 at Breslin Center.