The Marquette men’s lacrosse team is composed of 28 players, but through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, coach Joe Amplo has added another member to the team. Last week, the team adopted Jacob West, a 7-year-old Northern Illinois boy with pediatric cancer, as its 29th member.
The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation is a non-profit charity that brings together children and families afflicted with pediatric cancer and aims to improve their lives in any way possible. The program connects a child to a high school or college sports team to form a bond of friendship and hope. It started in 2004, when the Northwestern women’s lacrosse team adopted 9-year-old Jaclyn Murphy.
Amplo has previous experience with the foundation from his time at Hofstra. It was there that his team adopted a 4-year-old named Dylan Beach.
“Dylan became a big part of what we were doing. He was at our games and practices. He became one of our own,” Amplo said. “It was a great experience not only for the coaching staff for the players.”
Marquette’s entire roster welcomed West with open arms by playing some pickup basketball at the Al McGuire Center. Junior Cullen Cassidy participated with the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation with Amplo at Hoftstra before transferring to Marquette.
“Everyone was pretty nervous and shy in the beginning,” Cassidy said. “It was hard to get him to open up, but that usually happens with a young kid when he gets to hang out with a bunch of college kids.”
Amplo anticipated nerves from the players as well, but freshman Charley Gargano emerged as the most comfortable around West.
“The thing that’s challenging for some of our guys is that they’re uncomfortable around youngsters if they don’t have younger brothers or cousins, so they don’t know how interact that well with people that are so young,” Amplo said. “Couple that with the fact that this young boy has brain cancer, it makes our young men seem socially inferior. To see Charley interact with him and warm up to Jacob was impressive.”
Gargano has an autistic younger brother and has worked at Buddy Club with disabled children throughout his life. It was no surprise that he was all smiles when reflecting on his day playing with West on the basketball court and at the Annex’s bowling alley.
“We would give one of the athletes a ball and he would run around to try and get them,” Gargano said. “The first time Jacob went to throw the bowling ball, I guess he didn’t like how it was going, so he ran out halfway across the lane to get his ball back. We had to mediate that, but it was fun.”
When the team headed to Sobelman’s to treat West to a hamburger, Gargano’s connection with West was noticeable. West expressed a desire to sit next to Gargano as they ate.
“You tend to see that with these kids who love to find one guy who they can have an easy connection with. They’ll latch on and from there he’ll be able to branch out to other kids,” Cassidy said. “I think Jacob was a little overwhelmed dealing with meeting 35 people for the first time. When Charley immediately interacted with him, they hit it off.”
In addition to the work that the team does with Habitat for Humanity on weekends, the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation and their interaction with West will continue with another visit today.
Gargano said he cannot wait to see the smile on West’s face again.
“We’re going to play Wii, which I think will be awesome.” Gargano said. “I think he’s just a great kid. He’s hilarious. He makes you smile every time he does something. I can’t wait to see him.”