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IceRays season opener set to raise cancer awareness

After two years and a hard-fought battle, Lou like so many others who need a marrow or stem cell transplant, never found a matching donor in time.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The Corpus Christi IceRays are back at the American Bank Center this weekend after last year's season was canceled because of COVID-19.

Their season opener Friday will also provide an opportunity for fans to 'Be the Match' for someone's cure for cancer.

The hockey players will all be wearing special jerseys to bring attention to the need for folks to join the bone marrow donor registry with the game also commemorating Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

In the stands at the American Bank Center is where you would often find Cindie Deleon's son, Lou Gonzalez cheering on the Corpus Christi IceRays, but when the team hits the ice Friday, the mother will be among the fans in her son's place.

"This is my son Lou Gonzalez and he passed away in June of 2018 from Leukemia," said Deleon as she held a picture of her son.

Deleon said Lou was a student at Texas A&M Kingsville was just 20 years old when he learned he had cancer.

"He was big, strong, all he wanted to do was workout, go to school and do his outdoor activities.  When he got diagnosed it was really hard on him," said Deleon.

After two years and a hard-fought battle, Lou like so many others who need a marrow or stem cell transplant, never found a matching donor in time.

Leticia Mondragon with Be the Match said the process to register is easy.

All it takes is a simple cheek swab.

"A lot of people don't realize the impact they can make by swabbing and becoming part of someone's cure for cancer.  People don't realize what Be the Match does until it hits home for them," said Mondragon.

To help raise more awareness, the organization is teaming up with the Corpus Christi Icerays.

Friday, players will be wearing jerseys that will sport the registry's logo.

The hockey team's president said he is expecting a big crowd.

"Hopefully with Be the Match having tables, we can fill that registry up," said Cassidy Lange.

"I didn't even know what it was until I was in the military and registered," said donor Chris Hegg.

Veteran Chris Hegg found out the impact he could make as a donor when he got a call to serve in a different way seven years after signing up.

He was a perfect match for a teen with Leukemia in Europe.

Now CEO of his own company, Phoenix Technology Consulting, Hegg is sponsoring Friday's game.

"Important to bring awareness, because there are so many people who don't have matches," said Hegg.

Deleon is doing her part to help sign people up for the registry so that others can have a fighting chance.

"Be the match has really become part of my heart and mission if we can get one more person into the registry, we are honoring Lou," said Deleon.