Alexa Boucher has attended Shoreham-Wading River’s Lax Out Cancer game for years, and this year, she’s one of the fundraiser’s beneficiaries.
In January, Alexa Boucher was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancerous tumor that’s grown on the 14-year-old’s eye socket.
She was chosen as one of four — alongside 6-year-old Grayson from Miller Place, and 1-year-old Hannah Grace and 10-year-old Jackson from Port Jefferson Station — who were honored in the middle of Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field during the ninth annual event May 6.
Shoreham-Wading River, Garden City, Miller Place and Bellport participated in three games, with all money raised through donations and raffles divided equally among the recipient’s families.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Alexa said when she arrived on the school grounds to see hundreds of families, volunteers and corporate sponsors rallying behind her. “I never would’ve imagined that I would be a recipient.”
Kimberly Boucher, Alexa’s mother, was equally overwhelmed by the outpouring support for her daughter, who has been undergoing chemotherapy at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the city.
“We’re just so blessed to live in such an amazing community; there aren’t enough words to say how much we appreciate what’s been done for Alexa,” she said. “You never think it’d be your own child that you’re coming for … we’re just so grateful [that] everybody comes together when they hear a child is sick.”
Larry and Vanessa Horowitz, whose son was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in February and has been in and out of treatment at Stony Brook Hospital the last few weeks, were grateful to be there with him.
“He’s 6 years old and deserves everything we can give him,” Larry Horowitz said as he watched Grayson, smiling ear-to-ear, pass a lacrosse ball around with his friend. “There’s so much unbelievable selfishness and fundraising and everyone getting together here. The sun is shining and this is what I’ve been praying for.”
His wife, reflecting on her son’s ability to muscle through his ordeal at such a young age, said, “He’s stronger than I ever imagined and it’s making us all stronger just watching him. … You don’t really know people until you go through something like this, and I have no idea how to thank everybody for doing they they’ve done for us.”
The Shoreham-Wading River-based fundraiser was started in 2008 by Tom Rotanz, the high school’s then varsity lacrosse coach, as a way to acknowledge the father of one his player’s, who succumbed to a rare salivary gland cancer in 2005, as well as others in the community affected by cancer.
Since then, the event narrowed its focus on raising money for the families of kids in Shoreham and neighborhood districts fighting cancer — starting with 10-year-old Liam McGuire, a member of Shoreham’s lacrosse program who has been in remission following a 38-month leukemia battle, and Kaitlyn Suarez, a Shoreham girls’ lacrosse superstar who joined the team after recovering from two bouts with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“It’s such an uplifting experience to feel all the love that everybody throws at these kids,” said Miller Place resident Glen Cote, who, along with his wife Renée and young son Zachary, were beneficiaries in 2014 and 2015. In June 2014, Zachary, 5 at the time, was diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, or brain cancer.
“To have your child go through something like this, you’re down in the dumps,” the father said. “But this provides the parents and the little ones with a great feeling.”
Before the event even kicked off, $30,000 was raised for the families through sponsors, which included St. Charles Hospital and FLG Lacrosse, and the sale of program ads, T-shirts and raffle tickets.
A DJ from 101.7 FM “The Beach” emceed the fundraiser and That Meetball Place, from Patchogue, supplied food for attendees.
“They’re competitive kids and they want to play the game, but they understand the bigger purpose of giving back to kids that are not as fortunate.”
— Mike Taylor
“Every year it’s grown and grown,” said Kathy Miller, a member of the event committee and mother of a lacrosse player. “It’s teaching the players a valuable lesson about life, how precious life is and how much this giving means for the families. It’s bigger than just a lacrosse game.”
Mike Taylor, head coach of the boys’ varsity lacrosse team who opened the door for other school districts to participate when he was hired three years ago, said the players are a different breed of athletes.
“They understand the true meaning of this,” he said. “They’re competitive kids and they want to play the game, but they understand the bigger purpose of giving back to kids that are not as fortunate as they are. When they were kids seeing this event, they wanted to be part of it on the lacrosse side. Now that they’re older, and they’ve met the kids that they’re helping, it becomes a whole different thing to them.”
Joe Miller, a senior and varsity midfielder for Shoreham-Wading River’s boys’ lacrosse team, said he’s incredibly moved by what the recipients go through.
“It means a lot that we can help them out a little bit,” Miller said. “Seeing the kids and their families here, it makes it a lot more powerful and makes you feel like what you did made a difference.”
Defenseman Kyle Higgins echoed his teammate’s sentiment.
“It’s an honor to play for this kind of event,” he said. “Helping those who need support means a lot to us.”