Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Jaclyn Murphy to be honored in game

The Massachusetts women’s lacrosse team will be playing for more than just the opportunity to knock off the two-time defending National Champions No.1 Northwestern Wildcats on March 23.

While you’ll still be able to find the final stats and box score following this matchup, the game itself will take a backseat to the real reason why these two schools will converge in Yorktown, N.Y. This game is being played for one of the most avid and enthusiastic fans the sport has.

UMass and Northwestern are playing in the inaugural ‘Friends of Jaclyn’ College Lacrosse Showdown. The benefit game was inspired by Jaclyn Murphy, 12, who was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor, in March 2004.

The two schools are getting together to help raise awareness of pediatric brain tumors and to support the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, a charitable organization created to raise funds and offset the costs of medical treatment for children who are suffering from pediatric brain tumors, according to the charity’s Web site,

“I can’t say enough about the student athletes and the coaches from these two programs,” her father Dennis said. “You can’t put into words what these two programs have meant to my daughter. They don’t have any idea how much of an impact they’re making in helping raise awareness of this disease. We’re already seeing some residual and positive effects as result of this game.”

UMass coach Alexis Venechanos, who is returning to her hometown next Friday, got to know Jaclyn while she was the assistant coach at Northwestern and has since gone on to forge a close relationship with one of her biggest fans.

“The last year she has been getting checkups and MRI scans and the good news is that the tumor hasn’t come back,” Venechanos said. “She’s still dealing with the side effects of her different lifestyle. She is still tired from time to time and tries to go to school when she can.”

And almost three years after being told their daughter had a life-threatening brain tumor, the family’s luck continues to be in short supply. Last month the family’s house burnt down and they are now living with neighbors for six months.

“We just put everything into perspective,” Murphy said. “It’s just an inconvenience as far as we’re concerned.”

Jaclyn fell in love with lacrosse at a young age and had been playing the sport before she and her family heard the devastating and life-changing news. Soon after lacrosse was robbed from Jaclyn’s life, unwelcomed rounds of radiation and chemotherapy treatment moved in its place.

In March 2004, the seemingly healthy and vibrant young girl became ill for many days. At first, doctors assumed it was a viral infection. After spending five days in a hospital receiving tests, doctors still could not determine the cause of Jaclyn’s illness.

On March 26, Murphy went for a check-up at her pediatrician’s office where her doctor felt it was necessary to do a CAT scan. The CAT scan found that Jaclyn had a mass in the fourth ventricle of her brain. It was soon confirmed at Westchester Medical Center that it was in fact a brain tumor.

Four days later, Jaclyn underwent a six-hour surgery to remove the life-threatening tumor. On April 7, another surgery was required to implant a life port into her chest in order to begin chemotherapy treatments.

Later that month, Jaclyn began chemo and radiation treatments. Eight, six-week cycles of chemotherapy was required following radiation treatments, but after receiving five and a half cycles of the chemotherapy, Jaclyn began to suffer hearing loss and severe weight loss. In March 2005 her parents decided it was in their daughter’s best interest to end the chemo treatments prematurely. The decision was one of the toughest Jaclyn’s parents would ever have to make.

“At that point it was either risk reoccurrence of the tumor coming back or watch our child go deaf,” Murphy said.

But soon after, her spirits would receive a major boost from those who played the sport she loved.

Jaclyn’s first contact with the Northwestern program came after her youth lacrosse coach Matt Cameron told friend and Northwestern head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller about Jaclyn’s situation. Hiller then had her squad sign a media guide and had it sent to Murphy.

But the coaches and players’ relationship with Jaclyn didn’t end when the media guide came in the mail.

In the spring of 2005, Jaclyn was able to make the trip to visit her heroes before a game at John Hopkins University where she shared her experiences of being diagnosed with a brain tumor at just nine years old.

“She came into our pre-game meal and basically told us about her whole situation,” Venechanos said. “It was the first time she had ever told anybody about her situation because she was so comfortable around us.”

Northwestern’s biggest fan also proved to be a good luck charm, as Jaclyn’s forecast during her impromptu talk that the Wildcats would advance to the finals came to fruition.

“She told the team she would meet us in Annapolis, Maryland, which was the site of National Championship game,” Venechanos said.

But the predictions were not to end there.

At halftime of the 2005 National Championship game, Jaclyn was asked for her prediction on what the final score would be. Just as she predicted Northwestern would be making the trip to Annapolis, she also accurately predicted the final score: 13-10 in favor of Northwestern.

And soon, it became evident that a mutual admiration had grown between Jaclyn and the Northwestern program.

“We didn’t realize at the time us doing the little stuff meant so much to her,” Venechanos said. “At the same time if we couldn’t get through one day practice and she could go through three MRI in one week, we realized we could get through anything. Her courage meant so much to us.”

A year and a half after first meeting Jaclyn, the decision was made to have Northwestern and UMass make an up close and personal visit to her hometown.

“I’m not sure who exactly had the idea for the game,” Venechanos said. “It may have been Kelly the coach at Northwestern who decided that we should have a benefit game for Jaclyn since she did so much for us.”

“She’s pumped,” Murphy said about her daughter’s eager anticipation for next week’s game. “She’s had a really difficult time sleeping and can’t wait to see the girls from Northwestern and meet the girls from UMass.”

On March 23, Yorktown High School will serve as a reminder of the capability sports has to bring people together and inspire those even with the most difficult obstacles to overcome. Even though one team will be victorious at day’s end it’s safe to say Jaclyn Murphy and her cause will score the biggest victory. And you don’t have to be a fortune teller to know that.

Kevin Dooley can be reached at [email protected].

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