When she was first introduced to the lacrosse team in April 2010, Lily Adkins was 4 years old and had to use a walker to get around.
Her family was still trying to accept the possibility she would never be able to walk or run like other kids. Adkins was diagnosed with an ependymoma brain tumor at 14 months old.
Her father, Mike, said her childhood development had started to regress. Lily couldn’t sit up anymore. The family’s pediatrician referred them to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where doctors removed the tumor. Lily, now 11, has been cancer-free for nearly 10 years.
Seven years after she first met the lacrosse team, Lily proved her doctors wrong when she ran onto Howarth Field after she was announced as an honorary starter at the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation game on April 8 against Villanova.
“We are really thrilled to watch her thriving as a young, healthy girl going through life,” coach Bonnie Rosen said. “Our team is around to provide our support and love, and any time they can make it to our games she is a part of it as much as possible.”
The Adkins family first heard about Friends of Jaclyn — a nonprofit founded in 2005 that pairs children with brain tumors with local high school and college teams to help improve their quality of life and raise awareness — during Lily’s inpatient stay at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The Murphy family started the foundation when their daughter Jaclyn was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor. She was adopted by Northwestern University’s lacrosse team as an honorary member and wanted to share her experience with other sick children. Murphy celebrated her 22nd birthday six months ago.
Temple’s lacrosse team became involved with the Friends of Jaclyn organization in 2008 when they adopted Devon Lam, who was diagnosed with a tumor at 19 months old in 2004 and passed away in December 2008.
On April 3, 2010, the team had a Friends of Jaclyn Foundation game, where it invited local families affected by brain cancer to attend.
The Adkins family heard about it and decided to attend. They were introduced to the team through the foundation and the Lam family. A few months later, Lily was adopted by the team.
“No one treated her differently,” Mike said. “They treated her like a rock star. That was great. It has given her this amazing confidence. She has gone from shy and quiet to a really good, caring, outgoing young woman, and it’s great. A big part of that is really Temple Lacrosse and the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.”
“I really like it,” Lily said. “It’s like I’m hanging out with my friends and it’s really fun.”
While the Adkins family considers Temple Lacrosse an inspiration to Lily, the Owls consider Lily an even bigger inspiration to them.
With 58 seconds remaining against Villanova, Rosen called a timeout. Before running back onto the field, the team yelled “For Lily.” That was the motivation the Owls needed to come away with the 13-11 win.
“We went into the game saying that we were going to play for Lily,” senior midfielder Morgan Glassford said. “It was all for her today and it was awesome.”
Temple Lacrosse is one of 752 high school and college athletic programs that participate with the organization, said Denis Murphy, Jaclyn’s father and a co-founder of Friends of Jaclyn.
“You could never have dreamed it would be at this magnitude,” he said.
In 2013, Temple Football joined the lacrosse team and adopted 15-year-old Chris Richer, who suffered from neurofibromatosis — a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow on nerve tissue.
He signed a ceremonial letter of intent with the team and was given his own jersey and locker, along with an invitation to attend all practices and games.
Richer was the fourth child adopted by a Temple team. Before being cut in 2014, the softball team was also involved, adopting then six-year-old Vanessa Moresi in 2011.
“From our end, I hope it provides a bigger picture to our players that school work is not the hardest thing in the world and winning and losing is not the hardest thing in the world and being tired from exercise is not the hardest thing in the world,” Rosen said. “When you look at a young girl who has been through as much as she has and see the smile and her thriving, it’s really a wonderful perspective piece for our team.”
“Bonnie has had these girls making a difference since their freshman year,” Murphy said. “To change one child’s life is pretty powerful.”
Tessa Sayers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SayersTessa.