Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Jaclyn's Friend

Jaclyn's friend was tough - "the toughest kid I ever met," Kareem Maddox called him.

How tough?

He sat there and watched as people - young people - whose age he'd never come close to did the kinds of things that young people with indestructible bodies do, knowing full well that his body had long ago failed him.

And he smiled the whole time. Always. Anytime TigerBlog saw him, an 11-year-old boy whom TB never once spoke to, he was smiling. No matter how bad it was, no matter how dire his circumstances, he kept on smiling.

Why did his body fail him? No one will ever know.

Why him and not someone else? Again, there are no answers to such questions.

Michael Christian Regulski - called "Christian" by most and "Crunch" by the Princeton men's basketball program - passed away five days ago after a battle with what TB believes was brain cancer. He was 11 years old.

Princeton basketball fans may remember him as the boy who sat in the middle of the Tiger bench for a few home games this year and last.

Every now and then, TigerBlog would see him sitting there, always smiling and laughing, always interacting with the players on either side of him, regardless of the game situation.

"Crunch" and the Tigers first came together last spring, through a program called "Friends of Jaclyn."

The program, according to its website, has this as its goal:
The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation (FOJ) is a 501(c)(3), non-profit, charitable organization that improves the quality of life for children with pediatric brain tumors and their families formed in 2005. FOJ matches a child in need of love, support and friendship with a college or high school sports team based on geographic basis. Through a due diligence process, the foundation screens for the best match based on the child and family's needs and the team, coach and athletic director's commitment to our foundation's goals.

The "Jaclyn" in "Friends of Jaclyn" is a high school student named Jaclyn Murphy, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor seven years ago, at the age of nine. Jaclyn's family started the foundation with an eye on matching children who were in a similar situation with athletic teams that could provide inspiration and support.

In the case of Crunch and Princeton, the official adoption ceremony was held last April.

Crunch was from nearby Robbinsville. According to his obituary, his five favorite things were playing and watching lacrosse, building with legos, his beloved Princeton basketball team, going to school and his big brother Alec.

The random unfairness of what happened to Crunch is incalculable and unmerciful.

Still, it has to be of some comfort to his family that he found in his final months such a great support network with the Princeton basketball team through the Friends of Jaclyn.

TigerBlog could tell by looking at him all of those times that when he was in Jadwin Gym, he was able to put it all behind him, at least for a little while. When he was here, he was so clearly thrilled.

The last part of his obituary mentions that memorial contributions can be made to the Robbinsville Lacrosse Association, a youth lacrosse group that TigerBlog has coached against several times.

There are dozens of similar leagues, and TB has seen hundreds of youth lacrosse players, shaken hands with them going through postgame rituals.

It's a whole series of "good game, good game, good game," with closed fist bumping against gloves, and then it's back to TB's sideline.

Never once in any of those times has TB thought that any of these kids were nearing the end of their life, rather than just exploring the beginning.

In the case of Crunch, he was an exception to that rule, a cruel exception.

The life of this tough little boy was short, and there's no way to comprehend what his parents and the rest of his family and friends are going through at this point.

TigerBlog hopes that the efforts of the Princeton basketball team took at least a little of the hurt away for them.

TB never met the little boy, but his smile on the Princeton bench will be sorely missed.


Anonymous said...

Well written TB. I was lucky enough to meet Crunch just one time.
The men's basketball team exemplified and truly lived out the mission of friends of jaclyn by loving, supporting and enhancing the life of Christian/Crunch while battled his cancer.
Friends of Jaclyn Foundation is truly inspired and thankful for these young men and their coaches.

friend of jaclyn
family coordinator

Matthew said...

TB - your article was very moving and in the very best of taste. As Chris'(Crunch)dad, I had the honor of enjoying the same relationship with the team as Chris did, and yoiur observation of his appearance of pure joy is directly on target.Rather then repeat myself, perhaps you might want to visit caringbridge.org and enter "crunch" as the site you wish to visit.I think it will give you even more insight into how special these men were and are - but I believe you already know that. Thank you for your kind words.