The Spencer 7th grade girls basketball team finished its last home game Feb. 21, the end of a memorable season dedicated to a friend whose spirit lives on in the team.
12 year-old Madison Pluger unexpectedly passed away after a go-cart accident on October 27, 2018. Throughout the season, the team has kept Madison in their thoughts by chanting her name in huddles, coming up with cheers, making posters, wearing team shorts bearing her name, and writing her jersey number on their arms.
In honor of their teammate, the basketball team also decided to retire Madison’s number, 23. She shared the number with both her stepdad, who played at Spencer, and her mom.
“She wanted to be just like Jordan,” said Madison’s mom, Krystle Tomczik, referring to Michael Jordan’s famous number.
While he didn’t know Madison personally, coach Nick Arnoldy has seen the impact she made on her teammates. “Everyone on the team was friends with Madison. It’s a pretty tight community and circle of friends,” he said. “The ladies really rallied around the family and did their best to support them.”
Madison first got into basketball in 5th grade after a friend was interested, and instantly loved it. “Practice was never an issue for her. She loved going,” said Tomczik.
It was in sports that Madison formed a great group of friends that carried over into volleyball. As if she wasn’t busy enough, Madison also joined cheerleading and played the saxophone in band.
Tomczik recalls spending lots of time in the car going to tournaments in those early years. The group of young athletes and their parents became its own community. “We’ve bonded with these parents, and we’ve bonded with these girls. They make you feel like a family…It feels like you’re rooting for everybody out there on the court,” she said.
Madison’s family still attends every basketball game to support the girls, who in turn have taken it upon themselves to return the favor by showering Madison’s 3 year-old sister Montana with attention, and catching up with brother Liam. Recently, the entire group surprised Liam with Valentines in front of his 2nd grade class.
“It’s been overwhelming, but heartwarming, that she has left such a positive impact on so many people, because that’s the kind of person that she was,” said Tomczik. “There wasn’t anybody that she couldn’t hop into a conversation with and find something that she had in common.”
True to her nature, Madison’s goal was to one day become a surgeon so that she could help others. Though those dreams were cut short, as an organ donor she was able to fulfill that mission after her passing.
“Even though she didn’t get to have her dream of becoming a surgeon, she did get to go on to save lives,” noted Tomczik.
As the basketball team finishes their season and moves onto a final tournament next weekend, they will continue to keep Madison in their thoughts.
“These ladies certainly did their best to dedicate their season to their friend,” said Arnoldy. “She’s there in spirit, and the girls use her memory as motivation when they’re playing.”
“They put so much hard work into this season. I’ve just been blown away by their dedication,” said Tomczik. “I love these girls so much. They’re just truly amazing, amazing kids.”