By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 8/11/08
So, Mackrides thought, there could be no better way to spread the word about Evan Brady’s courageous fight than to use the sport Evan loved so much: lacrosse.
This past spring, Mackrides and men’s lacrosse players at six other colleges and universities began selling T-shirts to raise money for Evanfest (www.evanfest.com), a foundation that in only two years has raised nearly $150,000 for families that have a child battling a life-threatening illness.
In just a month, Mackrides and nine of Evan’s friends, as well as Evan’s younger brother, Drew, raised $3,000 and sold over 500 T-shirts, that have the Evanfest logo and e-mail addess.
The money raised by Evanfest, which culminates each April with a youth lacrosse festival at Malvern Prep, goes directly to families to help pay for medication, doctor’s bills or any fees associated with caring for a child with a serious illness.
Mackrides and Evan were friends and neighbors and teammates at Malvern Prep, a perennial Philadelphia lacrosse power.
Both were youth standouts with great potential, but in September of 2001, when Evan was 15, he was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a deadly childhood bone cancer. Evan, despite many setbacks, became known more for his strength and love of life and how he interacted with friends and family with optimism rather than despair.
Evan died three years ago at the age of 19, shortly after graduating from Malvern Prep. But many close to Evan still are determined to spread his message.
“I was trying to get the guys to understand that, being Division I athletes, sometimes we take things for granted and we don’t understand others are struggling,” said Mackrides, an Academic All-American choice this year at Penn State. “Seeing Evan go through the struggle – and yet at the same time seeing him have the positive attitude – it was the most inspiring thing.”
To boost sales and raise awareness for the cause, Mackrides and Villanova captain Ryan Holloway, with help from the Brady family, recruited several more of Evan’s friends who were playing college lacrosse.
Those who began selling T-shirts during the 2008 season included Mike Creighton at Notre Dame, Steve Layne at Loyola, Mike Avato at Drexel, Matt Conaway at Cabrini College and Drew Brady at Villa Julie. Also, Dan Liva and Tim Atkins assisted Holloway at Villanova, Casey Grugan assisted Conaway at Cabrini and Andrew Quercetti sold T-shirts as a member of the club team at Penn State.
Holloway, Creighton, Layne, Liva, Atkins and Quercetti also graduated from Malvern Prep, while Avato went to Springfield-Delco, Drew Brady went to Penncrest, Conaway went to West Chester East and Grugan attended Ridley. All are schools in suburban Philadelphia.
Mackrides, Holloway and Quercetti have since graduated. But the rest of the group, and more friends being recruited by Evan’s father, Bill Brady, plan to sell a revised version of the T-shirts next spring.
“The idea behind selling the T-shirts is to try and raise more money for families in need, but we also wanted to gain more awareness (for Evanfest),” said Avato, entering his senior year.
Already Evanfest is a major event that has grown tremendously since its inception two years ago. This past April, 25 youth boys’ teams participated in the festival and this year close to $100,000 has been raised, mostly through corporate and private donations.
The money not only goes to defray costs for medicine and health fees, it can be used for families to plan a vacation or deal with emotional needs associated with raising a child that has a serious illness.
Evan Brady never focused on his illness or pain while enduring countless chemotherapy sessions and the amputation of his right leg. Instead, he chose to laugh, spend time with friends and encourage his teammates, even serving as a student-coach for the lacrosse team at Malvern Prep after his diagnosis.
“It was great to see him on the field,” said Mackrides, who first had to get NCAA clearance at Penn State to start the T-shirt drive. “He really helped out as a coach.
“We knew it was a safe haven and that it was, in a way, a place for him to leave everything aside, and enjoy life for two hours at a game or a practice. He could enjoy being around the kids; he could worry about the pain afterwards.”
Evan was easy to spot on the Malvern sidelines, either leaning on his crutches or sitting in his patented blue seat. Evan later had his No. 19 shirt retired at Malvern and he even earned a scholarship to St. Joseph’s University for writing about his experiences dealing with cancer.
Now, almost three years after his passing, Evan’s friends say it is a joy and an honor to talk about his life while spreading the word about his fight to live life to the fullest.
“When I began selling the shirts, I basically gave them his background, and talked about the Evanfest Tournament,” said Creighton, who will be a junior in the fall. “I told them where the money is going to, but most kids have already heard of him on my team.
“Evan impacted thousands of people in the lacrosse community. It’s a tight community, and it feels great to carry his name and raise money for people who can’t afford some of the medical treatments.”
Drew Brady is confident the T-shirt drive will grow this year. “I think it does raise some awareness about the situation, and every little bit counts.” said Brady, who will be a sophomore at Villa Julie in Owings Mills, Md. “Even if you buy a $10 T-shirt, it’s going a long way to help someone else’s family that needs money.”
Added Holloway: “Sometimes you think you have it bad in life. But you saw Evan go through so much. To me, especially when something goes wrong, I have that example. I look around and say, ‘Hey things aren’t that bad.’”
Conaway, entering his senior year, said selling the T-shirts helps preserve his memory of Evan.
“It does a lot to help you remember how fortunate you are and really what a great person he was,” he said. “This is a tribute to him, and his strong, inspiring character.
“Sometimes I would be around him and I knew he wasn’t having one of his best days. I would kind of notice and adjust the person I was to him. But he’d catch me off-guard and say, ‘You still stink at lacrosse.’ I would say, ‘Oh man.’ He was always upbeat.”
Quercetti tore his anterior cruciate ligament and had to sit out his senior year at Malvern Prep, ending any chance he had of a college scholarship.But spending time with Evan made it impossible to get too down.
“Before my injury I didn’t know Evan that well, but he was a huge example to me,” said Quercetti, who recently graduated with a degree in business management. “I was down on myself at first because I was trying to go to Penn State as a preferred walk-on. But my whole senior season, he helped me through it.
“He was always being positive. That made it easy to get back to walking. I always looked it as being hurt for a reason – basically to meet Evan. I learned a lot seeing how he handled the disease.
“He never talked about himself, he’d always say, ‘How’s your day going, any problems?’ You looked at him always as being a positive role model for everyone; he never looked at himself and brought others down with him.”
Layne said that Evan’s illness prevented him from enjoying a brilliant lacrosse career, but that Evan never felt sorry for himself, especially when he served as a coach in his final months.
“Evan was a mainstay and real big figure as a youth player and everyone knew him,” said Layne, who will be a junior this year. “He had the best mind for lacrosse. Evan was so talented, and then one day he was told he could not play lacrosse anymore.
“As good as he was and as good as he could have been, he didn’t want to step away. No matter how down you are, if there is any way you can help out…that’s what Evan would want you to do.
“Even on the sidelines that last year, when he was at his worst, he would still be there on crutches or in a wheelchair, still coaching and fighting until he couldn’t fight any longer.”
Anyone wishing to make a donation can send a check payable to Evanfest at P.O. Box 5263, West Chester, PA, 19380-5263. Pictures of Evan courtesy of the Brady family.