Thursday, May 9, 2013

North Florida's Biggest Little Fan Gives the Team Perspective

Whatever successes and failures the North Florida Ospreys softball team deals with they have a child watching them.

The Ospreys have had a successful softball season winning the Atlantic Sun regular season championship and earning the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.

Thursday afternoon at Draper Diamond on the campus of Lipscomb University they lost 3-1 to Lipscomb and stayed alive with a 1-0 win over Stetson.

But no matter what the Ospreys go through they know that Megan Parker, a 5-year-old child from Jacksonville, Fla., living with brain cancer; is fighting a bigger battle than any they are going to face on the softball field.

“It is a different dynamic,” Ospreys coach Marcie Hickey said. “It does put it all in perspective.”

The softball team at North Florida has been working with the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation since 2010. Marcie Hickey, the A-Sun Coach of the Year, was familiar with the foundation from her days at the University of Vermont.

Friends of Jaclyn was started as the result of a desire by Jaclyn Murphy. She was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in 2004 at the age of 9. When she awakened from a treatment she noticed a photo of a lacrosse player on the wall of her hospital room. She said she wanted to play lacrosse when she was healthy again.

A year later friends of Jaclyn’s family told the women’s lacrosse coach at Northwestern about the young girl’s courage. The team adopted Jaclyn as an honorary member.

Jaclyn wanted more children with brain tumors to have the same experiences she enjoyed with the Northwestern team and urged her parents to start the foundation. Since 2005, according to the foundations web site, more than 300 children have been adopted by high school and college sports teams.

Hickey expressed a desire to have her team adopt a child from the Jacksonville area. 

She sent videos and information packets to her players in the summer of 2010. She was pleasantly surprised by their interest.

“Megan was three at the time we adopted her,” Hickey said. “They send you a packet of information explaining what is going on with the little girl and what the family has been through. They talk to you about potentially what could happen.

“I wanted our players to understand what this would mean. It is not a community service project that you work on for an hour once a year. It is about relationships. 

Across the board our girls couldn’t wait to meet her. They were gung-ho.”

On April 30, 2011 before playing a doubleheader with Stetson the Ospreys softball team made the adoption official. They also adopted Megan’s sisters, Bree and Jade, who are not ill.

“You really develop a relationship with them,” Hickey said. “They come around to some of our home games. The bond they have with the girls on the team is amazing to me.

“We don’t see them all that often. But when they come by they remember everyone’s names. They hug everyone. Our girls are awesome with them. It helps our players to really appreciate what they have.”

Megan is in school and doing well after a rough time following her diagnosis.

“She is getting big and doing great,” Hickey said. “It is nice to see. She went through so much a couple of years ago. She had several surgeries. She was running back and forth to St. Jude’s Hospital. There was a lot of strain on the family.

“But even when she was going through all of this she was just a happy, go-lucky little girl. She is so cute. She is awesome.”

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