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  • Reverend James Squire

Phillies Fans We Wish Were Here

Coming off the incredible comeback for the Phillies on Friday night, I was still thinking about it yesterday morning. Vicki and I were heading to Coach Doc’s Celebration of His Life and Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish. When I think of Coach Doc, I think of character, people who are ethical and good, and sports. When the opportunity to greet the family started at 9, there were already over a hundred in line. I was hoping that Coach Doc could see the World Series.

The church was very large, but it had to be to accommodate the large number who would attend the Mass later in the morning. Big Five basketball which is where Coach Doc had his beginning included EA past parent Fran Dunphy now coach at Lasalle and Danny Leibovitz, who played for Coach Doc at EA and is an Associate Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference. Tim Janetta was one of Coach’s captains. Each person represented an era in Dan Dougherty’s life. Coach Doc’s family represents the very best in humankind. Their family was a place where some family members were nurtured to become great collegiate athletes in their own right. The family was an incubator for the good and character of the best kind. His wife, Mary Ellen, is in a league of her own. We kidded each other about what it was like to sit next to her during a game. She defines classy lady. Various communities such as EA were well represented.

But it was so much more as people chatted with one another in line. It was a trip down memory lane. Conversations including the importance of family and the manner that Coach Doc did so much more off the court to care for people dominated the spoken words backed up by a gallery of pictures tracing his life. It was in the context of all of that I read in the title of an article in today’s Inquirer, The Phillies Fans We Wish Were Here To Cheer Along by Alison McCook. The title took my thoughts right out my mouth. I could not have said it better to reflect where matters of the mind were moving around in my psyche and soul.

I thought of my father who I have written about recently who was the ultimate Phillies fan. I wished that he could experience the game more directly without being hindered by his need for a transistor radio. Ted Stone, EA‘78 came to mind who died several years ago from head and neck cancer. He loved baseball. One of the last times that I had with him was sitting in the bleachers on a gray afternoon with chill in the air to watch the EA baseball team play. Ted’s passion for the game was undaunted even as he was still in the process of rigorous chemotherapy. I believe that the game touched him in such a way that the pain of his cancer did not have a chance to darken his spirits.

I want to focus on another member of the EA Class of ’78 the Reverend Bert Zug who is an example of what sports, namely the Phillies and Eagles, can do to enable people to face unbearable pain right now when they are alive. I have his permission to write about his story in this blog. His condition is in the public domain for those in his orbit.

“The Phillies and the Eagles have been a welcome and joyful diversion,” Bert wrote. In mid-May Bert was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Lymphoma, two weeks before his wedding to Kathy. They went ahead with the wedding as an act of faith. I saw something that day that I saw more times than I can count that I didn’t notice before. In a few moments, I will tell you what you can learn in the first fifteen seconds of being with someone. Bert has a loving family and friends supporting him.

Like Coach Doc, my father, and Ted Stone, Bert just might be the most ardent fan around. I know many people who may have tattoos of the Phillies or Eagles, but I know of no other clergyman who has the Eagles symbol tattooed on his back between his shoulder blades. It’s big enough to think he could fly. He will be at the game today on October 30 with the Steelers.

Bert went through the most rigorous possible treatment for cancer during the summer months. He is a deeply spiritual person who depended on his faith and folks around him particularly Kathy to move through treatment until late September when the treatment was evaluated. It did not work! More treatment was needed, and it would be the most rigorous treatment that we have in cancer treatment protocols which begins tomorrow. Eventually in December Bert will have CAR T therapy where his T cells will be removed, and changed to T cells that will kill the remaining cancer. They will then be put back in his body. There is much to prepare for this procedure between now and when it is done. It is rigorous. It involves courage of the utmost kind and character to persevere.

I want the Eagles and the Phillies to win to provide a diversion for Bert. His first treatment was like running a marathon only to be told about this next treatment that you have to run it again. No rest between.

I told Bert for the first time yesterday that when I selected him to come to be one of my assistants, no one thought it would work because we were so different and they weren’t shy in telling me that. We both had a good laugh for we had been together for seventeen years dealing with the most sensitive and difficult situations you can imagine. We didn’t always agree, but we always resolved the situations together. So, what did I see in his eyes at his wedding and throughout those seventeen years and never named it? Malcolm Gladwell, thought leader, has done research written about this phenomenon in his book, Blink, that you can really tell everything that you need to know about a person in your first fifteen seconds in meeting with a person on a one -to-one basis.

If you aren’t looking for it, you may miss it. You can see their goodness and their character. You can always train someone to do a job, but you can’t always train them to have goodness and character, but it helps to have those attributes as starting points. I wasn’t looking for them in the eyes of my father, Coach Doc, and Ted Stone, but their lives tell me they had to have been there. It is what kept an unlikely relationship to flourish for seventeen years because Bert Zug is character and courage. Keep him in your prayers and keep cheering for the Phillies and the Eagles.

I really believe that my father, Coach Doc, and Ted Stone have the best seats in the house. That’s the bottom line of what faith is all about. I would add that to McCook’s title of her article.

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