By Joel Alderman
He won’t get to play in any games, but 14-year old Riley Mack of Trumbull, CT, will be an important part of Yale basketball this season. Riley is the latest child suffering from brain cancer to be “adopted” by a college sports team through the “Friends of Jaclyn Foundation” (FOJ).
The organization seeks to improve the quality of life for children and families battling pediatric brain tumors. Riley is the 520th youngster adopted so far through the program, which unites college teams across the country with children who have this affliction.
Although Friends of Jaclyn is not designed for professional teams, last June the New York Yankees got involved. Another Connecticut resident, 12-year old Ryan Tucker of Wilton, along with two other children with brain tumors, were the guests of the Yankees. They were, unofficially of course, “signed up” to contracts by the Bronx Bombers. They were given pinstripe uniforms and stood with the players on the field for the National Anthem.
Riley was given #1 by Yale
Last Tuesday (Oct. 2) Riley Mack, who was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of three, was issued a Yale uniform with #1, and assigned his own locker with nameplate attached. He and his mother, Donna, met his new Bulldog teammates. One of them, Captain Javier Duren, later tweeted that Riley is “one of the coolest kids I’ve ever met.”
Denis Murphy, who founded FOJ in honor of his daughter, Jaclyn, was in New Haven for the introductions. “It gives me the chills to see how the team embraced Riley and his Mom,” Murphy told James Badas of the Yale Daily News. “This isn’t a one game or a one season deal. This is as long as Riley is alive.”
Yale’s veteran coach, James Jones, pointed out that “what sports have done to galvanize people, you can’t put a price tag on. It’s invaluable.”
Riley surprised everyone
After the initial contacts, Riley did something that took everybody watching by surprise. He went onto the floor, shooting hoops, dribbling and passing with the Yale team for over an hour.
Murphy pointed out that the youngster is often unable to find the energy to complete his physical therapy sessions, and that he “sits down in his house a lot and rarely gets up. (Yet) he stood out on that basketball court in front of his mother, and she was shocked. He’s out there smiling, with his chin up, shoulders back.”
Duren predicts that Riley is going “to be able to impact us more than we can impact him. Whenever we’re feeling, down, whether it’s because of practice or it’s because of games, we know that we can look at Riley for support and he’ll be there for us.”
The origins of Friends of Jaclyn
Jaclyn Murphy went through a similar affiliation after being diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of nine. She was an adoptee of the Northwestern University women’s lacrosse team in 2004, which, by no strange coincidence, won the national championship a few years later. Now at age 20, she resides in Cornwall on Hudson, N.Y., and is a student at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Her father said that FOJ is about “love, support and affection. That’s what the Yale men’s basketball team is providing.”
“Our mission,” explained Murphy “is about quality of life and what we can do for children today, not tomorrow or a year from now. That’s why we live in the moment and play in the moment.”
One day at a time
Riley Mack is the 520th child to be adopted by a college sports team so far. Tragically, 103 have not survived. “You don’t know how long a child’s journey is going to be, whether it’s a day or a week or a year. That’s how insidious this disease is,” said Murphy. “But one day at a time.”
Yale opens its basketball season at Quinnipiac on November 14th. All of us hope that Riley Mack will be on the Yale bench that night to encourage his teammates.
One game and one day at a time.