Matthew Campbell is remembered throughout Juneau as a symbol of hope and kindness, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon after a first-of-its-kind honor.
Treadwell Arena was full of emotion on Saturday during Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé hockey’s game against Tri-Valley High School for what was recognized as #LiveLikeMatthewC Night, dedicated to Matthew who passed away from stage 4 cancer in 2020 at the age of 24. In addition to having a memorial display set up with commemorative bracelets and information regarding the Matthew Campbell Scholarship Fund, the league made a surprise announcement at the end of the first period in where a ceremony was held on the ice to officially retire Matthew’s jersey No. 20 from the team, an honor that’s never been paid to anyone before.
JDHS senior Brandon Campbell, who not only wears his brother’s number for hockey but also has a tattoo of the number 20 on his arm, said the surprise announcement brought both feelings of happiness and sadness, but he ultimately saw it as a great way of ending the home season and his home hockey career.
“It means a lot to have my brother’s number retired,” Brandon said. “I didn’t know it was going to happen until tonight, so it made me really happy, definitely put a little more fire under my feet.”
The Crimson Bears would go on to defeat Tri-Valley 4–1 with the first two scores coming in from sophomore Emilio Holbrook in the first period, one goal from senior Lake Bartlett in the second period and the final goal from sophomore Dylan Sowa in the third period. The Crimson Bears will next face off against Kenai Central High School on Thursday in the state tournament.
Despite the on-ice excitement, the emotional core of the evening was the heartfelt ceremony during which the Campbell family gathered on the ice to receive Matthew’s framed jersey while retired JDHS assistant coach Jay Lloyd delivered a speech addressing the impact Matthew’s leadership and courage had on the team. Judy Cambell said her son would have been humbled by the honor, but mostly proud of his little brother.
“What he was most sad about was not being here for Brandon when he knew he was going to pass away,” Judy said. “He was here in spirit and this was huge to have this done for our family, to have his number retired, it’s a big honor for a hockey player.”
Judy said the overwhelming love and support from the community was unsurprising as her family has been in Juneau for many years and the town watched her son grow up playing various sports throughout his time in school. She said that to this day people share with her the impact that Matthew had on Juneau.
“It means the world to us to hear his name and to have people talk about him and wear his bracelets and see his stickers around town on people’s cars,” Judy said. “People we don’t even know I’ll see wearing his bracelets and I’ll meet new people and they’ll ask, ‘You’re Matthew’s mom? We wondered who he was and we read about him.’ Or people I’ve run into have said, ‘I was having a rough day and I looked at my bracelet and I didn’t even know Matthew but I know it means kindness.’ We just couldn’t be more proud of our son Brandon and for wearing his big brother’s number for all of these years, he has taken his grief of losing his brother and best friend and turned it into being a really great person, successful and a hard worker and most of all kind just like his brother was.”
At the end of every game Boline has a tradition of awarding one player with the “Battle Chain” — a large letter B that hangs from a chunky chain — as a way of recognizing excellence. At the end of Saturday’s game, that honor went to Brandon. Along with his Battle Chain, Brandon also proudly displayed the tattoo on his arm, which he said serves as his own special reminder that his big brother is never more than an arm’s length away.
“I wanted to get the tattoo because I play football, too,” Brandon said. “I wanted to have a way that I could show my love for my brother while I’m playing because I wear the number 20 on the ice to honor him, but since I can’t wear number 20 while I play football I got the tattoo so I could still display the number even then and to also just remember him for the rest of my life.”
• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at email@example.com.