North Carolina childhood cancer survivor gets a courtside experience at Carolina-NC State game

Scott Lenfestey, an 11-year-old from Cary, North Carolina, got the experience of a lifetime Tuesday night when he the Tar Heels on the bench at the Dean Smith Center.

Two basketball players jump for a basketball.
(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Eleven-year-old Scott Lenfestey of Cary joined head coach Roy Williams on the University of North Carolina bench when the Tar Heels faced NC State Tuesday evening at the Dean E. Smith Center. Scott is wrapping up his recreation league basketball season and is a big Carolina fan. He’s also a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at age 3.

Scott’s special night with the Tar Heels began last summer at the American Cancer Society Coaches vs. Cancer Invitational golf event at Pinehurst. Williams, a longtime supporter of the American Cancer Society and Coaches vs. Cancer, served as honorary chair of the tournament, which itself raised more than $1.5 million, and offered up the “UNC Basketball Courtside Experience” auction item. The aim: raise money to support childhood cancer research through the American Cancer Society and the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

Cancer has hit close to home several times for Williams, as he has lost several family members and close friends to the disease, and had a kidney cancer scare of his own several years ago.

Five-year-old Luke Morin lost his life a year ago due to an inoperable brain tumor. Williams and Hunter Morin, Luke’s grandfather, are close friends and the tragedy led the Carolina coach to help further fund childhood cancer research. Carolina basketball supporters Munroe and Becky Cobey purchased the courtside experience at the auction and decided to give the experience to a childhood cancer survivor.

That’s how Scott found himself on the bench — and in the locker room — Tuesday night. His dad, Rob, got a seat behind the bench.

The Lenfesteys are Tar Heels through and through. Both of Scott’s parents attended the University and the entire family are Tar Heel basketball fans. Scott was treated by Dr. Stuart H. Gold of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. The family and the doctor are still close.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at him today, but Scott endured three and a half years of chemotherapy, took more than 1,500 pills and spent countless hours in clinics and hospitals. Today, he’s a health advocate for childhood cancer issues. He visits Capitol Hill each year to share his story and secure funding for research.

His mother, Nancy, said Scott was thrilled to learn about the opportunity to be up-close with his beloved Tar Heels. He’s taken in a game at the Dean Dome, but never like this. She credits support for cancer research funding with saving her son’s life.

“It has given him an opportunity to do the normal things in life that he missed out on while fighting cancer,” she said.

Tuesday’s game was anything but normal for Scott, in a very good way. And it’s all part of creating hope for the estimated 11,050 children in the U.S. who will be diagnosed with cancer this year.