Like any other coach, Steve Schuck thinks wins are important. He’s led the Marcos de Niza baseball team to the playoffs two years in a row.
But winning isn’t everything, notes Schuck: “Community and grades are huge.”
So Schuck, who took over as head coach in 2014, was looking for a way to get his players involved in something outside the ballfield. “I wanted my players to build relationships with kids that are sick,” says Schuck.
“I wanted to bring community into the program, so that players could think less about themselves and more about others.”
But an attempt to have the team bring gifts to patients at Phoenix Children’s Hospital proved unsatisfactory. “We basically got the door slammed in our faces,” Schuck says.
He didn’t want the boys to just drop their care packages off and leave; he wanted them to meet the kids and gain an understanding of the challenges they were facing.
It was years later that he learned, through a former student, about Friends of Jaclyn. “I found out the team at UNLV had adopted a kid through FoJ,” Schuck recalls. “So I said, oh my gosh, that’s what I’ve been looking for.” The Friends of Jaclyn Foundation was named for Jaclyn Murphy, who in 2004 was diagnosed, at the age of 9, cancer.
According to the website of the organization, founded by Jaclyn’s parents Denis and Lynda, its aim is to “improve the quality of life for children battling pediatric brain tumors and other childhood cancers by pairing them with local teams, clubs and community groups who make them an honorary team member.”
Jaclyn Murphy’s own story has had a happy outcome, by the way: Now in her 20s, she’s a lacrosse coach at a high school near Poughkeepsie, New York. Schuck immediately contacted FoJ to express his interest in having the Marcos de Niza Padres “adopt” a kid.
He was thanked, but learned that it wasn’t so simple—at the time, FoJ didn’t have a candidate in Arizona. Not long after, however, the organization contacted Schuck to tell him that about a young man named Wyrik Wile.
“He’d been adopted by the New Hampshire lacrosse team,” explains Schuck, “but he moved out here, and was without a team. So I said, we’re in.”
Thirteen-year-old Wyrik suffers from Moyamoya Disease, a condition in which arteries to the brain fail to develop, leaving the patient at a high risk for strokes.
“It’s very rare,” says Schuck, “and he’s got the rarest form of the rare.” One of the difficulties of this is that he’s not allowed to play contact sports.
“He’s just a 13-year-old dude,” says Schuck. “Like every other 13-year-old, he thinks he’s invincible. And he’s not.” This month, however, Wyrik was “adopted” as an honorary Padre in a ceremony involving the band, the cheerleaders, the mascot, balloons, streamers, cake, the works.
This festive event, however, marks just the beginning of Wyrik’s connection to the Padres.
As Schuck says: “This relationship doesn’t end after the last game of the season.”