Hometown raising funds to help in cancer fight for Jackie Stiles

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The tiny Kansas hometown of a legendary former women's basketball player who set college scoring records is raising money to help its favorite daughter fight a rare form of cancer.

The farming town of Claflin, Kansas, is helping raise money for Jackie Stiles as she prepares for surgery Friday to treat eye cancer, the Springfield News-Leader reported.

Students in a senior class at Central Plains High School set up an online fundraiser Tuesday to help Stiles with some medical costs her insurance won't cover. The goal is $5,000.

Student Colton Potts may not have been born yet when Stiles played basketball at Central Plains, but the 18-year-old knows how important she is to the town of 700.

"Living in Claflin, she's a living legend here," Potts said. "When I was a second- or third-grader, I met her at a basketball camp her dad put on. When she came in, it was like meeting Michael Jordan."

Stiles, 39, put Claflin on the map playing for Missouri State University, where she set the Division 1 NCAA women's scoring record with 3,393 points. After college she played in the WNBA for the Portland Fire and was named rookie of the year in the 2000-2001 season. She currently helps coach Missouri State's women's basketball team.

Stiles' father, Pat Stiles, said he's "surprised and humbled" that the students would create a fundraiser.

"I am very humbled by it," he said. "I get kind of emotional about it. They don't even know Jackie. They weren't even around when she played. I just hope these donations won't be a financial hardship for anyone to bear."

A freshman class is also working on creating T-shirts to show their support for Stiles through her surgery and recovery.

"She's a great ambassador for the town," said Lisa Crites, the class' teacher who once had Stiles as a student. "She's never too big to come back and talk to us. She's always just Jackie -- as special on the inside as she is on the outside."

Claflin is a town of just over 600 people about 115 miles (185 kilometers) northwest of Wichita.