The Orange County ska community lost its tiniest warrior Oct. 8.
Carter Ankeny, 6, of Fountain Valley, was a beacon of light and innocence at ska shows throughout the county — but mostly at Suburban Legends shows at Disneyland's Tomorrowland Terrace — even before he could walk, let alone dance.
And when his life changed two years ago, when he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, the lives of many in the OC ska scene were impacted, too.
The community began rallying around this little boy, who would quite often dance with us in the pit, a few of us being careful to hold his hand as we kicked up our feet to the two-tone songs. (The first time I became close with Carter — a few weeks before his diagnosis — I was dancing with him, and he stopped, grabbed my face, kissed me and asked me to be his girlfriend. This child was the sweetest. How could I say no?)
Evan Wohrman, lead singer of Hooray for Our Side, knew Carter since he was a baby, meeting him and his parents at Tomorrowland Terrace concerts.
“I’ll never forget the day my band had just finished setting up our gear for Fullerton Day of Music last year, and we’d stepped outside to see the Ankeny family walking up," Wohrman said. "Carter sprinted directly at me and gave me the biggest bear hug. Carter just spread this infectious joy and positivity wherever he and his family showed up. He, without a doubt, was the embodiment of everything good in our music scene, as evidenced by the hundreds and hundreds of local fans and friends who rallied behind him in his fight. Carter was our hero."
His parents, Jamie and Tim Ankeny, recalled Carter's love for music, going to shows and the friends he met through the songs.
"No matter how bad he was feeling during treatment he would always get up and move to a ska song," Jamie said. "He loved being at shows and dancing with his friends, usually up front by the stage, on his daddyís shoulders, or in the circle skanking along with the rest. The ska family was always so welcoming and accommodating to everyone, even a little four-year-old learning to skank. They always made room for him, held his hand and gave a high-five while at shows."
Many of Carter's ska family would also visit him during in-patient stays at Children's Hospital of Orange County and at Chapman University baseball games, where he was an honorary player. Dozens also supported him in the 2016 and 2017 CHOC Walk events at Disneyland on Team #CarterStrong and banded together to make Carter's summer bucketlist wishes come true, including staying at the Legoland Hotel, even when the rooms were completely booked.
Many also began taking part in Carter's regular hobby of "hustling kindness," in which he would do a good deed for others, such as handing out popcicles to beachgoers on warm days or dropping off baked goods to law enforcement officials.
While music was a big part of Carter's life prior to his diagnosis, with him attending shows regularly with his parents and baby sister, Taylor, it became an even bigger part of his life after he became ill. Bands started recording songs to support his treatment costs, and a benefit show was put on last year in his honor.
Matthew King, an organizer of August 2016's Carterpalooza concert at the Yost Theatre in Santa Ana, said the ska community wanted to "do something big to help raise money and the family's spirit."
The show was attended by hundreds of ska fans — some who didn't even know Carter — with the boy's favorite ska bands Suburban Legends, Starpool and Hooray for Our Side on the bill.
The event raised more than $9,000 for the Ankenys.
"The love for the family and for Carter was so overwhelming," King remembered. "I know the family truly appreciated it beyond words. They have mentioned it so many times since that night, and they fondly talk about all the great things that happened during that show."
One of the biggest moments at the show, which moved nearly everyone in the room to tears, was the three bands performing a surprise cover of "Fight Song" by Rachel Platten, which became Carter's personal theme song during treatments. (His mom recalled him regularly pumping his fist to the song to show his strength.)
This year, the bands took the surprise further by recording it, with funds intended to go 100 percent toward the Ankenys. But Carter never got to hear it.
He passed away due to complications from his treatment the morning the song was released, a few weeks prior to the song's originally scheduled release.
Vincent Walker, singer of Suburban Legends (which recorded the tune with Wohrman and Alan Meade of Starpool) said the song was supposed to be released in late October, but once they heard of Carter's passing, they knew it had to be distributed sooner to help the family.
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"Carter is a special dude," Walker said. "Even before his diagnosis, he was such a huge part of the ska community. The way he was, his energy, his smile, it brought people together. He just loved going to shows and I think that love transferred to anyone that came across him and his family at shows. He's going to be missed, massively missed. We're all going to miss his dancing and skanking at shows. He'll always have a spot on our stage right side, where he usually would be rocking out with his family."
The Ankenys said proceeds from the songs will help the family with medical, memorial and living expenses. After Carter's diagnosis, Jamie was unable to return to work regularly and Tim took many days off work to be with his family in the hospital, Jamie explained.
"The fundraiser and song are such generous gifts from our incredible ska community that has really lifted us and supported us during this journey," Jamie said. "Whether Carter heard it or not, we know he would be so thrilled. ... From the support at shows, social media, Carterpalooza, hospital visits, home visits, and so much more, we really can’t put into words how much the ska family support has helped us during this rough time."
To purchase a copy of "Fight Song," available at a pay-what-you-can cost to be donated to the Ankenys, visit https://suburbanlegends.bandcamp.com/. To donate to the Ankenys for treatment, memorial and living costs, visit https://www.gofundme.com/help-carter-beat-leukemia-round-2.