On November 19th, 2014 at about 4 a.m., 12-year-old Nick Wihlborg passed away after a gallant battle with Leukemia. Though he loved baseball best, Nick loved all sports and it has been the Lenape Valley Regional High School basketball team that has kept his memory alive at an annual Silent Night Basketball game. This year's game will be on January 30th at 7 pm. This year the opposition will be Vernon High School.
Most of the Lenape student body comes out to the game to remember Nick who always wore number eight. The crowd in the gymnasium remains completely silent until the eighth point is scored at which time they erupt into cheers.
Dave Wihlborg called the game surreal.
“It just means a lot to us and the support we get from the basketball team is amazing,” he said. “It was completely their idea, and the first year, we thought 'why not lets try it.' For a relatively small high school to see most of the student body come to the game is so great. Nick never had the chance to try playing basketball because he was sick in middle school, but something tells me he would have played and this year, would have been out there as a senior.”
Junior Kenny Ramirez knew Nick both through sports and school.
“He was a grade older than me but we competed in baseball,” Ramirez said. “My favorite season was when we were able to play on the same team at Lakeland Little League. This game keeps Nick in everyone’s heart and head. For those of us who were friends with him, I think it’s comforting that we can still find ways to remember and honor him. It’s a good way for us - the school, the community - to show the Wihlborgs that he will never be forgotten.”
“I was friends with Nick through school,” said Senior Zoe Moppert. “We became friends when we were in elementary school. When he first started getting sick, I would visit him and help with his missing school work or draw for him and he showed me the TV show Impractical Jokers. He became one of my closest friends.”
Moppert said that the game means that Nick will never be forgotten.
“Everyone knows his name and his story even though he has not been in school for years and never met some of these kids,” she said. “Even though it is senior year, it has the same importance to me as every year - that our friend is not forgotten. What I really like about the Silent Night Game is that it is not about raising money, but to honor Nick. The eruption the crowd makes when the 8th point is made is all for Nick as those who knew him or heard stories about him and reflect on how he was such a great kid. I miss my friend.”
“Nick and I played baseball together in Little League, and we went to the same elementary and middle school for our whole lives,” said senior James Sweizer.
“Playing this game means a lot to me knowing that Nick would’ve been graduating with me this year. This game makes it feel like he’s still here and still has an impact on the people he knew and the people he was friends with. This game helps to positively remember Nick by showing everyone who he is and what kind of person he was, and this game helps the foundation in his name make money to help children’s cancer research.”
To date, the Wihlborg Foundation has made numerous donations to families with children who are battling cancer.
When Nick was 10-and-a-half and in the midst of battling Leukemia, he told his parents that everything was going to be alright.
“That's when we learned how truly fearless he was,” Dave Wihlborg said. “He was facing this battle with a determination and resolve that was nothing short of amazing.”
Nick went into remission but then, the leukemia returned. They made the decision not to tell the 12 year old that he would not see age 13.
During his final days, Nick became very sleepy.
“His time was upon us and we need to make sure he was surrounded by love,” Wihlborg said. “We all slept in his room that night. It was a cold windy night, exactly the opposite of the day he was born.”
The Silent Night Game is open to the public and will be held at Lenape Valley Regional High School on January 30th in the gym. For further information about the Wihlborg Foundation, visit: https://www.nick8w.org/. For GPS purposes, Lenape Valley High is located at 28 Stanhope Sparta Road Stanhope, NJ 07874.