Fight Like Dylan Award Turns Tragedy to Triumph in Honor of Exceptional Teen

Eric EdelmanCorrespondent INovember 30, 2012

For Dylan Rebeor, competition was a way of life.

Growing up in Columbia, Tennessee, there were few things he enjoyed more than riding dirt bikes and playing football with friends and family.

By the time he entered his freshman year of high school, Dylan encountered a dilemma. The football season and dirt bike season coincided, so he had to make a decision: motorcycles or the gridiron.

Befitting of his selfless nature, he opted for the football team, the Columbia Lions.

His life was just like any other high school kid until around January of 2010. Dylan began to complain of bloating and chronic back pain, and as time went on, what doctors initially determined was a case of appendicitis turned out to be something much worse.

By March of 2010 it was determined that rather than appendicitis, he actually had a form of colon cancer, and the prognosis was likely terminal.

Even before the tragic discovery, for his coach, Vance Belew, Dylan’s positive attitude and work ethic were always remarkable.

“He was always a source of inspiration even before his illness. He was a rare kid,” recalls Belew, “He was always intense and really well-liked by his teammates.”

Being the fierce competitor Dylan was, he never quit, and even after exhausting series of treatments and chemotherapy, he was always more concerned with the football team.

That year the Columbia Lions made it to the post-season, and before they went on to win their championship game on December 3, 2010, Dylan’s bout with cancer came to an end. One of his final wishes had always been that the football team he loved so dearly receive whatever they needed most, such as brand new jerseys and equipment.

Thanks to the generosity and support of local charities like the Nashville Make-A-Wish Foundation, a nearby school Columbia Academy, and their local sporting goods store, Dylan’s wishes became a reality.

Even after the team’s inspiring victory, his incredible selflessness and dedication to the team he loved lives on. In August of 2011, Russell Athletic heard about Dylan’s incredible story and wanted to do something special to help honor his memory.

“We met with Dylan’s mom, Heather, and his coach, Vance Belew, and decided the best way to honor Dylan would be to ‘pay it forward’ and keep his wish going for other schools and teams that overcome adversity,” says Gary Barfield, Executive Vice-President for Russell Brands.

After meeting with Dylan’s mother and coach, Russell decided to dedicate the Fight Like Dylan Award in his honor. Every year, Russell not only recognizes schools or programs that overcome adversity, but also awards winners with a $50,000 uniform and equipment grant.

The committee that oversees the award includes former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy, Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, Dylan’s coach Vance Belew, and Dylan’s mother, Heather.

The first team to win the Fight Like Dylan Award, earlier this year in January, was Edmonson County High School in Kentucky.  

“Three-year starting offensive lineman Jacob Irwin was diagnosed with cancer during his senior season in 2010 and passed away in July 2011,” Barfield recalls. “Irwin's perseverance and determination set the tone for the 2011 Edmonson County High School team, which drew on his strength as they finished their regular season 10-0 for only the second time in school history and claimed their first district championship since 1986.” 

Barfield also recognizes the importance of the award, and emphasizes why he personally felt a connection with Dylan’s incredible story.

“The world could use more young men like Dylan Rebeor, and that’s why the Fight Like Dylan Award is so important. We want people to remember Dylan and emulate his courage.” 

“Dylan’s life may have been cut short by devastating circumstances, but he lived an extraordinary life while he was here with us,” said Heather Rebeor, Dylan’s mom. “We’re in awe that Dylan’s memory and spirit will live on by the Russell Athletic Fight Like Dylan Award. Dylan truly cared about others more than himself and now his legacy will be seen across football fields, soccer fields and basketball courts forever.”

Currently, Russell is accepting submissions for the second annual Fight Like Dylan Award until December 3, 2012. The award is open to all high school sports programs in the United States, and the winner of this year’s award will be announced at the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl in early 2013.

Dylan’s amazing story is something that transcends sports; it represents the invincible will that lies within all of us in the face of tremendous adversity. Although he tragically passed on, his legacy and heroic humility will be forever engrained in the memories of his loved ones.