Men’s Lacrosse Team Adopts A Youthful Stranger

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Peter Caty/The Mirror

Don’t be surprised if you see a seven-year-old running around at men’s lacrosse games anytime soon.

The lacrosse team’s newest member is a seven-year-old from Wilton, Conn.: Ryan Tucker, whom the team adopted as a part of the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.

Tucker’s adoption ceremony took place in the Dolan School of Business at the end of January. In attendance were head coach Andy Copelan and his staff, the entire team, the Tucker family and guest speaker Dennis Murphy, founder of The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.

During the ceremony, Tucker was presented with an official jersey and other Fairfield lacrosse gear. He was even given his own locker in the team’s locker room.

On Tucker’s Web site, the Tuckers wrote, “Ryan is officially an honorary member of the Fairfield University Men’s Lacrosse Team! What an awesome group of boys and coaches! We feel so blessed to have their support! Ryan cannot wait to be on the sidelines cheering them on to victory!”

The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation is a 501(c)(3), non-profit, charitable organization that teams up children with pediatric brain tumors and college sports teams. Once the team and child have been matched, there is a ceremonial adoption.

From that point on, the child becomes the guest of honor at games and receives supportive text messages, e-mails and phone calls from team members and coaches.

The Foundation was inspired by Jaclyn Murphy, who was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, in March 2004 when she was nine years old.

At the age of three, Tucker was diagnosed with a brain stem tumor. A biopsy was performed which indicated that Tucker has a pilocytic astrocytoma which is considered a low-grade or slow growing tumor. Tucker had an 11-hour surgery in April 2005 that removed approximately 95 percent of the tumor.

However, Tucker’s journey was just beginning; he had to go through months of physical, occupational and speech therapy. Essentially, he had to learn how to walk and talk all over again.

In Dec. 2007, a residual tumor began to grow at which time Tucker began carbo/vin chemotherapy protocol. Tucker stopped treatment in May 2008 after he had an allergic reaction to one of the chemo drugs. Since stopping chemo, the tumor has been stable and Tucker has MRIs every three months to monitor his tumor.

Sean Bannon, a junior on the lacrosse team, was the first to propose the team get involved with The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation. A friend sent him a link to a story that HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel did on the foundation. It wasn’t long before he called Copelan, and started the process.

“After I watched the video, I was immediately touched,” said Bannon. “The fact that a sports team could create such a relationship with a child in need was amazing.”

Tucker isn’t the only one excited about the adoption. “The guys are completely on board with it. They think it’s a terrific idea,” said Copelan. “I think they are pretty good about understanding their role in the community, giving back and making sure that we’re visible in all the positive ways that we can be.”

The season has just begun but Tucker has already changed the way the team looks at things.

“I think that the impact already is profound in the sense that it puts things into perspective. A lot of times our guys will get pulled a few different ways whether it’s lacrosse or academics or socially,” said Copelan.  “I think that all of the sudden this just really hits home and at the end of the day they all consider themselves very fortunate.”

Bannon agreed. “Ryan is one of the toughest and most determined kids I have ever met. To be able to see him smile and enjoying the moment makes everyone on our team realize there are bigger things in life than sports.”

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