Forever hers: Broncos retire No. 22 in Riley's honor

Photo by Ben Beitzel

Photo by Ben Beitzel

SNELLVILLE -- When Amanda Riley was growing up, she insisted on wearing No. 22 on her basketball jersey.

And if someone already had the number, she would play them for it and win it back.

Brookwood's girls basketball program made sure no one would ever wear that number again. The Broncos retired Riley's jersey posthumously on Thursday in the school's gym in front of family, teammates and friends.

"There aren't words to express how honored we are. There aren't words," Riley's mother Barbara said. "She's certainly smiling down on us tonight because she loved that number and she loved this school. Just to know no one else will ever put that uniform on means a lot to her. I know it does. It means a lot to us."

Riley died this spring at the age of 17 after a 13-month battle with cancer. Her No. 22, which is the day she was born, is the first jersey to be retired in Brookwood's basketball program for boys or girls.

"I mean, it's amazing, she deserves it," longtime friend and teammate Katie Mallow said. "It makes people remember what she was like here and people won't forget that."

Thursday's jersey retirement was part of the WNBA's Atlanta Dream Take the Show on the Road campaign. All the proceeds from the event went toward the Riley Foundation and the Dream upgraded the Broncos' locker room with a flat screen TV and furniture in Riley's honor.

"She was such an Atlanta Dream fan," Dream coach Marynell Meadors said. "You've got to do something, even if it's a little bit. This was just a little bit. It's just in honor of a young lady that was going somewhere."

What people will remember about Riley is a friendly, popular student that maintained an A average while taking honors classes. She was a peer leader and had aspirations of being an elementary school teacher one day.

She was also a pretty good athlete. Riley's school year was built around sports. She ran cross country in the fall, played basketball in the winter and was on the track team in the spring.

"There was two, maybe three days a year that she came home after school because the sports overlapped," her father Steve said. "She loved this school."

Riley led Brookwood's ninth-grade basketball team to an undefeated season and the tournament championship where she earned MVP honors. She made the varsity as a sophomore and was diagnosed with cancer during her junior season.

"We didn't care if she scored two points or 20 points, we didn't care, we just loved watching her play. She enjoyed it," Barbara said.

Riley was first diagnosed with cancer in March 2009 when doctors found a rare rhabdomyosarcoma tumor on her bladder. After 14 rounds of chemotherapy and 30 days of radiation, she appeared to have the cancer beaten earlier this year.

Her cancer fight sparked widespread fundraising and cancer education programs at the school.

However, in late March she returned to the hospital because of recurring headaches and neck pain. An MRI showed a mass on her brain and at the top of her spinal cord. Riley died on April 9.

The basketball and cross country teams will wear commemorative patches on their uniforms this season in honor of Riley.

"After Amanda's passing, I thought this was something that would be a great honor to her and an honor for our basketball program to recognize Amanda that way," Brookwood girls basketball coach Scott Terry said. "It serves as a great reminder to the Brookwood community that it's not all about athletics. It's not all about what you can do on the basketball court or football field, what's more important is the type of person you are and that's why Amanda was deserving of this honor."