The lacrosse team had an extra starter last Friday.
During introductions, 8-year-old Lily Adkins – with a jersey and a stick – was announced prior to the game and was on Temple’s sideline with her family throughout its match-up against No. 19 Louisville.
The team adopted Lily four years ago through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, a nonprofit organization that pairs children battling pediatric brain tumors with high school and college sports teams with the goal of giving them support and improving their quality of life.
Lily is bashful. When she was asked about the team last weekend, her eyes faced the ground as she gave some head nods and nervous shoulder shrugs. Combined with her big smile, however, she got her point across.
“She is still a little shy,” coach Bonnie Rosen said. “But she is so much less shy than she was, and you can tell that there’s a love for just being around our team that makes the whole experience so worthwhile.”
Lily was 14 months old when she was diagnosed and treated for an ependymoma brain tumor. She survived and has been cancer-free for almost seven years.
“We’re blessed that Lily was able to find a cure,” Mike Adkins, Lily’s father, said. “But that’s not always the case. The stories get really big news, unfortunately, when the kids pass away. There are lots of kids out there like Lily, though that are surviving because of the research that has gone on.”
“We continue to do everything we can at that end,” Adkins added. “The more people know, the more that we hope it will help find that cure so that all the kids can live.”
Adkins and his wife, Trish, are Temple graduates and knew about the story of Devon Lam, the Owls’ first adopted sister who was picked up by the team in February 2008. She died in December of that year, when she was 5 years old.
“They were having an F.O.J. day after Devon passed away,” Trish Adkins said. “We came because we thought it would be awesome to support the team and to find out about F.O.J. We never thought that Lily would be adopted. It just kind of happened.”
“We came and we told them who we were,” Trish Adkins added. “We introduced ourselves because we thought it was really great what they had done for Devon’s family and we just wanted to express our support.”
Although they never expected it at first, Lily’s opportunity came soon enough. At the time of her adoption, Trish Adkins recalled that Lily had just relearned how to walk.
“She was still wobbly and she was still learning all of those things, and then she sees this team of these amazing young women doing amazing things,” Trish Adkins said. “It was like, she wants to be like them, they’re her big sisters. Just on that sort of really physical level it’s been amazing.”
But the team has done way more than serve as inspiration.
The Adkins are also supporters of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, and the team has been to Lily’s stand to help out. The Owls have also been to her birthday parties, and even surprised the family at Christmas.
While Lily is the one the team adopted, Trish Adkins said that the squad has embraced her siblings as well.
“Chloe was a baby when [Lily] was adopted and [the Adkins’ 1-year-old son] Nicholas wasn’t even here,” Trish Adkins said. “They’ve embraced all of our kids and they really are her big sisters.”
Despite the fact that players have come and gone during the four years Lily has been with the team, players maintain that the love remains the same.
“Every time girls graduate, there are more girls that come through and just keep embracing them,” Trish Adkins said. “It’s really an amazing thing for her to have. Any kid to have that many big sisters is a big deal, but for Lily it’s been incredible.”
Nick Tricome can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @itssnick215.