‘IT WAS MEANT TO BE’: Senior’s setbacks lead him to a place that makes his family proud

"The main thing was during all of this I just tried to stay as positive as possible throughout the surgery and treatments," Ethan Sturgeon said of his cancer diagnosis. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

NEW PALESTINE — When Ethan Sturgeon was born in 2003, his parents received a welcoming letter from the University of Indianapolis, where Ethan’s father had been an athlete and later a coach and big supporter of his alma mater. The letter said the school couldn’t wait to welcome Ethan to campus as a new Greyhound after his high school graduation.

Little did the family know it would take the death of Ethan’s father, Todd Sturgeon, on Nov. 12, 2018; a battle with cancer for Ethan; and the loss of a Division 1 football scholarship for the Dragons football player to finally make his way to UIndy. He’ll start at the school his father loved this fall, where he plans to continue his football career and study exercise science.

Ethan, 18, New Palestine, is scheduled to pick up his diploma with the Class of 2021 tonight (Friday, May 28) at New Palestine High School. His path to the stage at Kelso Stadium has been much different than that of his classmates.


After Ethan lost his father to cancer during his sophomore year in high school, the heartbreaking personal loss only stiffened his resolve to move forward and pursue his dreams. Ethan chose to continue to play football for the Dragons, work on his grades and set a goal to earn a scholarship to play football in college. The dream was realized when he was accepted into the United States Air Force Academy and the football program welcomed him with a scholarship.

Fate however, had another plan for Ethan.

Adversity struck the Sturgeon family again when Ethan, who is 6 feet, 3 inches tall and weighs 280 pounds, was diagnosed with melanoma on his lower back heading into his senior year at NPHS. The family informed officials at the Air Force Academy of the cancer, and the due to the strict health standards for those entering a military program, the Air Force Academy was forced to take away Ethan’s offer to play football, hitting the teenager with yet another tough blow.

While the cancer diagnosis and the loss of his scholarship was a setback, it didn’t derail Ethan, who refocused and found a different dream, picking up an offer to go to school and play football at UIndy.

“The main thing was during all of this I just tried to stay as positive as possible throughout the surgery and treatments,” Ethan said. “It was so good to have support, mostly my teammates around me.”

Fortunately, doctors were able to remove the lump on Ethan’s lower back through surgery. Doctors also removed some lymph nodes after learning the cancer had spread. The surgeries, coupled with immunotherapy treatment, stopped the cancer.

The family feels fortunate they decided to get a mole on Ethan’s back examined after it started to develop in an odd manner.

Ethan had to miss only one football game his senior year, the first game of the season. He was, however, able to play the remainder of the games in his starting offensive line position.

“While the cancer got into his lymph nodes, the treatment is something he could tolerate and did really well with it and he’s been able to do the things he loves, which is play football,” said his mother, Kim Sturgeon. “We’re really proud of him.”

Ethan said he felt lucky having been able to play football and continue on in school. He just recently received word the cancer is gone. He’ll have another checkup in September and have to visit a dermatologist every three months for the next four years.

When Ethan thinks about all he’s had to deal with during his time in high school, he knows the past four years have been anything but typical.

“I’ve definitely had a to grow up pretty quick, but I’m not complaining,” he said.

Kyle Ralph, the Dragons’ head football coach, said he’s proud of Ethan for the resilience he’s demonstrated throughout his entire time as a student/athlete representing the Dragons.

“So many times life has dealt him a bad hand, and every time he’s responded with amazing positivity and spirit,” Ralph said. “A lot of that comes from having such a strong family unit, his mom especially now, and the way Todd raised him before he passed.”

Ralph said Ethan’s story boosts his faith in young people.

“‘The good old toughness the older generation claims is missing is still alive and well,” Ralph said. “Kids haven’t changed all that much. Circumstances around them sure have, and Ethan is a shining example of if you have the right mindset and the mental toughness personally and support system around you emotionally, that anything is able to be overcome.”

Kim Sturgeon said her son has always been a very respectable, hard-working young man who goes after what he wants. She was glad to see Ethan tackle and clear all the obstacles that have been thrown at him. She said her family has been able to overcome all the adversity thanks in large part to so much support.

“Being in the New Palestine community has been really helpful, getting so much support from the school, the athletic programs, family and friends,” Kim said. “They’ve been very supportive.”

As for his future, it’s bright. Ethan will hit the Greyhounds’ practice field on Monday, May 31, and is looking forward to getting into the weight room with his new teammates, he said. While Ethan was at first disappointed to have to inform the Air Force Academy about his diagnosis, in the end he and his mother feel being at UIndy is something that would have made his dad happy and proud.

“It’s crazy to say, but I think the melanoma happened for a reason,” Ethan said.

It’s that kind of uplifting attitude and approach to life his mother; his sister, Rylie Sturgeon, a junior at Indiana University; and his coaches and teammates appreciate and look up to.

“I thought Air Force would be a really great opportunity for him, and he was devastated when they dropped him, but we’re thankful he’s been given this opportunity to play for the University of Indianapolis,” his mother said. “He’s looking forward to playing for them and we’re happy because he will be closer to home and we’ll be able to see a few more games than if he had been at the Air Force Academy…. I guess it was meant to be.”


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New Palestine High School graduation:

When: 7 p.m. today (Friday, May 28)

Where: Kelso Stadium, New Palestine High School

Rainout times: 11 a.m. Saturday, May 29; 7 p.m. Saturday, May 29; 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 2.

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This story is part of a series about members of the Class of 2021 in Hancock County as they prepare for commencement exercises.

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Meet the New Palestine High School Class of 2021, Page A6.