During Friday’s football practice, members of the BYU football team struggled and strained under the watchful eyes of their conditioning and position coaches.
Standing off to the side watching with equal intensity, were two small boys with shaved heads and big grins. One was nine-year-old Parker and the other was his younger six-year-old brother Dylan. You could see it in their eyes; both looked as if they had just won a trip to Disneyland. Parker and Dylan ran up and down the sidelines laughing while mimicking the sprints and drills of their favorite Cougars.
As BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall called together his players to the middle of the indoor practice facility field for a brief speech signifying the end of the day’s activities, the team broke the gathering with the familiar cry of “Champions!” On a normal day, the team usually jogs on over to the POWERade table, but Friday was different.
The team turned around and gathered in single file towards the two little boys as they stood next to other siblings and their parents. It was quiet, and a reverent feeling quickly replaced what were once the echoes of 100 plus football players suffering through rigorous conditioning drills.
The Cougars patiently waited in line to shake the hands of two little boys with hearts as big as their Cougar heroes.
“When Coach [Mendenhall] announced it today, first I though how grateful I am about my situation in life where I wasn’t dealt anything like leukemia,” said quarterback John Beck. “I didn’t have to go through anything like that, so first off you think “How blessed am I?” and then at the same time I thought of how special of a family they are. I thought one of the coolest things was how they all showed up today with shaved heads. They all wanted to make their brother feel better and apart of the family. If you look at that little guy [Parker] he had a smile on his face, and he was just so fired up just to be here. For him, even though he has to deal with that, he’s still finding all the good things in life that make him happy.”
Young Parker McEwan was diagnosed with leukemia years ago and has already been through the difficult trials of chemotherapy. He was well on the road to recovery when the situation turned for the worst. Parker and the McEwan family would soon have their own version of BYU’s band of brothers with the youngest of heroes coming to Parker’s aid.
“The older boy has been diagnosed with leukemia cancer and he’s been fighting it since 2002,” said senior tight end Daniel Coats. “They thought they beat it in 2005 but it just barely came back up again, and he had to go back through chemotherapy and needs a bone marrow transfer. He’s getting it from his younger brother Dylan who is just six years old. He’s one brave little kid to want to do that for his brother because I’m scared of needles let alone wanting to go through surgery.”
Little Dylan will make a tremendous sacrifice by being a bone marrow donor for his big brother Parker.
“It’s just an awesome story,” said senior wide receiver Zac Collie. “We talk about tribulations and trials, and I think Heavenly Father gives us those things to grow and make us stronger, but for Dylan and Parker to have these things happen to them being so young, and to see them persevere is literally being a band of brothers. It’s about one sacrificing for the other, and I don’t think there is a greater story than that because it’s truly what life is all about. I have so much respect and all the admiration in the world for these two young boys.”
“The story about how his little brother is going to be his donor; I think that right there will keep those two brothers so close together for the rest of their life,” said Beck. “My younger brother [Rudy] is one of my best friends. My younger brother and I, we always talk and will be best friends until we are old and gone. To have that kind of relation within your own family is really special, and that’s what the Church is all about. They’re always talking about the family unit and keeping it strong. With a situation like that, what a great example it is of a family’s love and a family’s devotion to each other.”
When Parker and his brothers found out that they would have the chance to see and meet the Cougar football team, they jumped up and down and danced around. For just a little while, the troubles and worries of their world seemed to disappear.
With tears in her eyes, Parker and Dylan’s mother Neely said: “They were ecstatic, and this was very fun. It’s just wonderful and something great for these boys to come and meet the team. This is a scary thing they have to do and I think it’s just a positive thing for them in helping to be more brave.
“It helps so much just for these boys to see these young men and how strong they are not just within sports but within their own lives all around.”
“I think it’s great too,” said Dylan and Parker’s father Brad. “We’ve been big BYU fans all along, and we’ve watched this team all season and it’s been a big come back year for them. These athletes are good young men and it’s great to have that role model for our boys. To have all the players come by and shake my boys hands is a big thing for them, and I think it’s going to be something they’ll always remember.”
Parker’s leukemia is currently in remission, and the family is preparing for the bone marrow transplant. Next Wednesday, Parker will be admitted to the hospital and the life saving transplant from his little brother will take place on the 21st of December.
“It’s inspiring to see a brother care for another brother so much that he’s ready to sacrifice what ever it takes,” Coats said. “It’s really what being a band of brothers is all about.
“The family is a big fan of BYU and when you have the chance to do something as small as this, it’s great for us. All they wanted to do was come to practice and meet us, and if we have the chance to make him happy and to keep him strong to keep fighting cancer, we’ll do it. Anything we can do to help make a couple of kids happy or to help inspire him to keep fighting, we’re more than willing to do it.”
“The one thing that Coach Mendenhall always talks about is giving back to the community,” said Beck. “It’s about doing things for others and we’ve all been lucky enough to have been given the chance to be here and play football at BYU. There are hundreds of people all across the United States that have been dealt a different hand in life where maybe they can’t run as well as we can or can’t do other things as well. That doesn’t take anything way from the type of people they are or what they can accomplish.
“Parker and Dylan are dealing with something like this which is unfortunate, but it’s great to have them come in and allow us to give them a standing ovation. I thought that was really special because it’s something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, and it’s also something that the entire team will remember and take home with us.”
Thoughts and prayers on behalf of Parker, Dylan and the McEwan family would be greatly appreciated as they go through this trying time.