MaxStrong Forever: Max Holden Passes After Battle With Cancer
Max Holden, the son of Ranney boys basketball coach Tahj Holden, lost a two-year battle with cancer Tuesday night at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He was three years old.
Max was diagnosed with neuroblastoma - a rare form of cancer that mainly affects infants and young children - in early March of 2018.
In the summer of 2018, with the help of family friends, the Holden family started the MaxStrong nonprofit to help raise money for Max and others dealing with pediatric cancer. "Max Strong" became the mantra of the Holden family and their support system for the last two years.
According to the MaxStrong Facebook page, doctors at Sloan Kettering found that the cancer spread during a scan in late February and determined they no longer had treatment that could aid Max. The family was planning a mid-April trip to Texas in hopes of qualifying for a clinical trial, according to Ranney assistant coach and family friend John Tierney.
The Holden family had a trip to Key Largo, Florida at the end of March through the Make-a-Wish Foundation recently canceled as well.
During his fight against his illness, Max frequently attending Ranney's basketball games and often played basketball with his five-year old brother, Cole, afterwards. He loved to dribble the ball and did his best to get up shots at the 10-foot rims in Ranney's gym after the games while waiting for his father and the team to come out of the locker room.
Life has been a roller-coaster ride for Tahj Holden and his wife, Carrie, since Max's initial diagnosis in 2018. Holden coached a state championship game vs. Roselle Catholic after driving right from the hospital two days after finding out about his son's diagnosis. Fans throughout the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in Toms River were wearing neon shirts with the words "Max Strong" on them in black lettering. When Tahj Holden walked out of the locker room - his team already on the court for warm-ups - he was greeted with a standing ovation.
Ranney lost that game to Roselle Catholic in heartbreaking fashion, but his team returned the next year and won the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions - finishing No. 1 in the state of N.J. No team from the Shore Conference had ever won the T of C in the first 30 years of the tournament prior to Ranney winning it.
This year proved to be more challenging on the court for Holden and Ranney, which did not have a senior on its team and went 17-10 while winning a third straight Shore Conference Class B Central division championship.
Tahj Holden - a former star at Red Bank Regional High School and a key member of Maryland's 2002 National Championship team - was embracing the challenge of developing a young core over the course of his fifth season, but the return of Max's cancer in late February prompted him to take an indefinite leave of absence from the team for the final week of the season.
The current social-distancing orders in New Jersey due to COVID-19 are likely to limit options for memorial services, which have yet to be set. The Holden family requested privacy at the present time.