By Reporter Jenna Meissner -Videographer Chip Frenette
For Springside Chestnut Hill Academy lacrosse player Brendan Clark, starting his varsity senior year was something he could not wait for. Getting the chance to play with his longtime teammates and friends as a senior unit was the culmination of three years of hard work and dedication.
As PSD reporter Jenna Meissner tells us, a scary diagnosis could have stopped Brendan’s chance to play lacrosse ever again, but this senior attackman had other plans.
PHILADELPHIA, PA—Springside Chestnut Hill Academy boys’ lacrosse team entered this season with the motto “One Team.” Little did they know this saying would go far beyond playing lacrosse.
This past February one of their own received a shocking diagnosis. Senior attackman Brendan Clark found out he had a brain tumor right around Valentine’s Day.
“At first I thought this can’t be true. What does this even mean?” recalled Clark. At that moment, he had to make a choice.
“One, I could’ve been negative and depressed and make everyone else around me feel more anxiety and worse about the situation. Two, I could be positive, I could smile and just tell my parents you know we’re going to get through this.”
Brendan chose the second route, which turned out to make all the difference in the lives of the people around him, especially his lacrosse team.
“It’s hard for 15 to 18-year-old kids to take that kind of news. It’s not easy. I was just shocked that this would happen because we had been playing indoor lacrosse. We had games. He was playing and everything seemed fine,” said senior captain Matt Rahill.
SCHA Director of Boys’ Athletics and head lacrosse coach Mike DelGrande met Brendan four years ago after a former player brought the rising athlete to his attention. Brendan admired SCH’s lacrosse program so much so that he travels 65 miles to school each day from his home in Berks County, PA.
“He came here hoping to be a starter as a freshman and he proved his worth and did start as a freshman as a midfielder,” said DelGrande.
His reaction to the news was much like everyone else’s- absolute shock.
“After you’re shocked you hope that everything will work out for him. That to all of us was the most important thing.”
However, the most important thing to Brendan was getting back on the field as soon as possible.
He underwent two surgeries. The first surgery removed as much of the brain tumor as possible, while the second surgery treated an infection Brendan developed from his initial incision.
Six weeks after those procedures Brendan was ready to hit the turf.
“I said, ‘Brendan I cannot let you play until you get me a note from your doctor.’ He texted his doctor at eleven o’clock that night and texted me back with the doctor’s note,” said DelGrande.
Clark’s first game back was in Baltimore against Archbishop Curley. Towards the end of that game, Coach DelGrande had one goal in mind.
“We tried for almost five minutes to get him a goal… I looked out onto the field and Brendan could barely stand. I called a timeout, we brought the entire team in and I said ‘Look your job right now is to get Brendan a goal,’” remembered DelGrande.
In the end, Brendan was finally able to score. Both his teammates and those watching on the sidelines were ecstatic, but for DelGrande it meant something much more.
“I’ve experienced a lot of big wins, but what I witnessed in Baltimore is more special than any win I ever have had. I had to actually turn away from the field because I had tears in my eyes and these guys don’t see that…ever.”
Brendan’s close friends set up a GoFundMe page to help with his medical expenses, but they never expected the page to receive so much attention.
“We put up the GoFundMe page and raised almost $20,000 in the first night,” said Brendan’s best friend Zach Messerle.
Messerle added that this success was in part due to Brendan’s warm and welcoming personality.
“He could have just met you yesterday or he could know you for ten years. He’ll treat you the same way.”
Not only was Brendan receiving donations from his SCH family and the Inter-Ac community, but also across state lines.
“It was really truly baffling that people who are my rivals reach out when things come to such a point and help support. It’s more like an Inter-Ac family rather than opponents… A team from Massachusetts, a youth lacrosse program, donated like $200 and I have never even heard of them,” said Clark.
SCHA Head of School Dr. Steve Druggan added, “It was so heartwarming to see the SCH community – from students to parents to faculty and staff – come together and rally behind Brendan and his family at this very challenging time.”
Brendan’s teammates were with him every step of the way. They visited him daily during his stay in the hospital. Even though the Intensive Care Unit only allows three visitors per room, Brendan had 24 visitors on his first night.
“I seriously think more than half of our school visited him in the hospital,” laughed senior teammate Matt Rahill.
Since day one, Brendan shared with his coach that all he wanted to do was go on to play Division 1 lacrosse in college.
Brendan’s dream came true last summer when he was offered a spot on Wagner’s lacrosse team.
“He became really worried, wondering ‘Are they going to still want me to go there?’ Their head coach called him up and reassured him that ‘Yes Brendan, you still do have a spot at Wagner,’” said DelGrande.
Brendan has another MRI in May to check his progress, but for now he’s taking it one day at a time.
“This changed my attitude a lot. Each day is like you go out there and you’re playing your heart out. You might not play again tomorrow,” said Clark.