Football, Cancer and Compassion

Below is a note I recently received from a football and wrestling coach, Nick Corey. 

Yet another example of how "sports" can be so much more than "just a game" at times.


This was from the mother of Tony Merk, a six year old who died of cancer 4 wks ago. 

I've witnessed a lot of cool things in sports. Nothing topped last fall, when some 1st graders for Our Lady of Visitation--a team that included my son, Luke--practiced all week not touching number 88--Tony--who played for their upcoming opponent, Our Lady of Grace. 

We told their coaches to dress him for this game, and if he was strong enough, give him the ball for one handoff. We'd heard about his story and battle w/cancer. Word got out, and Our Lady of Grace was packed for a first grade football game--but of course, for much more. 

At the end of the game, just before it was over, a tiny, sick boy came on the field for just one play. The crowd stood and cheered and wiped moist eyes, and so did all of us "manly" football coaches. We couldn't help it. 

We told our kids this was "the play"...and then it happened. Tony got the ball, ran right, with our kids playing excellent 1st grade actors--diving for him and missing purposely, getting blocked purposely, and Tony went in for the score. The place erupted, and Tony's teammates and coaches picked him up, and our own first graders had smiles because they understood they'd done good. 

Balloons went up in the air, and Tony looked around, smiling, soaking it all in. I will never forget it. None of us will. 

Many from our team went to his funeral. Incredibly wrenching, but this is a family who knew that we were in it with them, there for them. Sports enabled this moment. Our job as coaches, I guess, is to look for these opportunities/lessons whenever they might be available. Peace.