KING CITY — Back in September, King City High took on Rancho San Juan during a Thursday night football game, but front and center were the senior cheerleaders, who left one spot noticeably empty on the sidelines except for sunflowers and a poster honoring the life of student Ebony Vega-Politron.
“I know she would have made the team,” said Ebony’s mother, Maria Politron. “I know she would have been there cheering. Because that’s what she loved to do.”
Ebony, an aspiring high school cheerleader who would’ve turned 15 this year, grew up in King City with her mother, father and brother. She loved animals and had dreams of being a veterinarian. Her love for them came from her time in 4-H.
“Her passion was animals,” her mother said. “She wanted to be a vet when she grew up. She would always talk about that.”
But Ebony’s other love was cheerleading. She would picture herself in the King City Mustangs cheerleader uniform, cheering on Friday nights under the lights.
She had been cheering for the King City Stangs Football and Cheer program since 2016.
“She loved cheer,” Politron said. “That was what motivated her to get better so she could join the high school cheer team.”
A life-changing diagnosis
On Aug. 27, 2019, Ebony’s life would change. She was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a brain tumor found in a part of the brainstem called the pons, which controls essential bodily functions, such as heartbeat, breathing, swallowing, eye movement, eyesight and balance.
Right away, Ebony needed to start treatment and chemotherapy. She went through 29 rounds of radiation at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto.
“When she got radiation, she was OK,” Politron said. “Thankfully she did really good. She really didn’t have major side effects other than losing her hair.”
Unfortunately, the chemotherapy wasn’t working for Ebony, and she was asked to do CAR T-cell therapy, a form of immunotherapy. She was one of the first patients to go through it, according to her mother.
“When she went through the CAR T-cell therapy, she was really tired,” Politron said. “Just because there was so much inflammation in that area and a very sensitive area. She wasn’t able to walk. Her speech was different.”
Tryouts in trying times
Although Ebony was going through multiple treatments, she was still determined to fulfill a dream of making the KCHS cheerleading team.
“During that time, they started to do conditioning,” Politron said. “Even though it was hard for her to do the exercises, she really pushed herself because she wanted to be able to do everything. She was really motivated to have a normal life.”
During the school’s tryouts, Ebony had to travel to Stanford Medical Center to get treatment and wasn’t able to try out for the team, leaving her disappointed.
At the time, Politron didn’t know that King City Head Cheerleading Coach Nicole Garcia had already known of Ebony’s condition and was ready to put her on the team.
“Living in a small community, I had prior knowledge of her condition,” Garcia said. “She had participated in the youth cheer Stangs program, and they had fundraisers for her.”
Garcia would never have the opportunity to meet Ebony in person due to Covid-19 protocols.
“Our team was virtual at that time since we were all on lockdown,” Garcia said. “I never had the chance to meet her in person, just by video. Our first video meeting, I remember her radiating smile and her spirit and enthusiasm. Her excitement to be a part of the cheer team was evident by the sparkle in her eye when she spoke about cheer.”
With the help of the other cheerleaders, they rushed to find Ebony a uniform. But her cancer got worse, and although Ebony received the uniform, she never got the opportunity to wear it or participate in any events.
“But she knew she was a part of the team,” Politron said.
Ebony died on Sept. 24, 2020, at age 14.
Honoring her legacy
Fast forward almost a year since Ebony’s passing, freshman cheerleader Mia Lopez talked to Coach Garcia about honoring Ebony in the best way they knew how: under the lights during a King City High School football game.
“Mia Lopez approached me about honoring Ebony for the anniversary of her passing,” Garcia said. “We then brought the idea to the rest of the team and they decided what they wanted to do. They wore shirts that Mia’s mom, Alicia Crespo-Lopez, created along with gold ribbons. They also hung up posters around school on Friday, Sept. 24. Since we didn’t have a game that day, they had decided to dedicate the next home game (Sept. 30) and performance in her honor.”
Ebony’s story has not only reached people in King City, but also throughout South Monterey County. The Soledad Warriors Football and Cheer, the team her brother Nathan Vega-Politron plays for, honored her by wearing gold ribbons.
Since Ebony’s passing, Politron and the rest of her family have been moved by the way the community has supported them and their daughter.
“A lot of people loved her,” Politron said. “Losing her was heartbreaking for us. But it was very beautiful to see the community reach out, and to see how many people loved her.”