By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 10/9/09
It was not difficult for first-year Penn lacrosse coach Mike Murphy to explain the significance of the Third Annual Nick Colleluori Classic to his new players this week.
Murphy’s Quakers will be one of 10 Division I teams to play Saturday in the first day of the men’s Fall Ball Classic at Ridley High. The two-day tourney, run by the HEADstrong Foundation, benefits blood cancer research in the name of the late Nick Colleluori.
Nick Colleluori, a Ridley grad, lost his fight against Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma three years ago as a student-athlete at Hofstra University. More than 5,000 people are expected to attend the event, which also features seven Division II and III teams in action Sunday.
Murphy, then the coach at Haverford College, had the honor getting to know Nick Colleluori during his lengthy battle against the disease. At that time, Murphy’s standout goalie, K.C. Peterson, also was fighting blood cancer (b-cell lymphoma). Peterson struck a friendship with Colleluori as they found support in each other’s fight to survive.
Murphy often was the one who took Peterson to the hospital for treatments. He saw Peterson and Colleluori form a bond that touched Murphy’s heart.
“This event clearly means a lot to us; just being a local team,” said Murphy, who took the post at Penn in July after a successful seven-year stint at Haverford College. “For me personally, knowing the Colleluoris as I do, it hits home a lot.
“Having gone through this (fighting cancer) with K.C. Peterson, I think about that all the time.”
Murphy said that Penn’s players may not have known Nick as he and some of his players did, but that the team can find a connection to Nick’s legacy.
“There may not be the closeness to the situation I had at Haverford College,” said Murphy, whose Quakers play Rutgers at 9 a.m. and then Hofstra at 12:30. “But we are so close to the hospital (where Nick was treated) here at Penn. And so many people have gone through trauma and loss, as everybody knows.
“For us, we need to understand that this was a healthy and vibrant lacrosse player who was afflicted with this disease. It can happen to anybody and we can certainly appreciate what we have.
“Surely, being here at Penn, the guys have a great deal (of hope) when we look at what our futures hold. We need to be thankful, and hopefully give back to our local community. That is part of what HEADstrong is about.”
Murphy said the games themselves Saturday also mean a lot to his team, which is starting over while trying to impress its new coach.
“This will be our test,” he said. “The Ivy League allows us one day of competition. At our practices, competition has been wide open.
“I still have not watched any film from last year, on purpose. I told the guys the spots are open and that anything that happened before has no bearing on now. We’ve been working on basics and fundamentals and we’ve been keeping things simple.
“On Saturday we’ll find out how much progress we have made.”
Murphy said the HEADstrong Foundation has succeeded in weaving Nick’s message into the very fabric of lacrosse in the United States. In the past year the foundation has started a major program to involve youth players (“Score for the Cure’) and launched the Nick Colleluori Women’s Classic as well as making lime green apparel and equipment readily available.
“I’m sure Mrs. (Cheryl) Colleluori feels good about it,” said Murphy of Nick’s mother, the President of the HEADstrong Foundation. “Everybody knows what those laces are now.
“Nick Colleluori is now part of the lacrosse culture in America, and that hopefully what she was setting out to do. All that comes along with HEADstrong and the Colleluori Classic is helping families now. They are looking for a cure.
“It has been very humbling to be a part of it. It sounds a little trite, but this is more important than clears and rides. With everything going on, it makes you think you’re pretty lucky to be playing the game.”
Murphy said watching Peterson and Nick Colleluori fight blood cancer has left a lasting impression on him.
“It’s one of the few things in my life
,” he said. “that didn’t happen directly to me, but directly affected me,”