1/30/2019 2:00:00 PM / John Gurtler
Weekend of past with the “Whirling Wheels Tour” of back-to-back Bandits games in Rochester and New England. Kind of like a Jekyll and Hyde scenario.
It's hard to explain what happened over the weekend when the Bandits on Saturday night were duped into submission by Rochester. I don't know whether it was bad gas, the water, or just the fact the team never has played well in that venue. Ghosts of lacrosse lore or something.
The 18-13 loss to the K-hawks was not pretty. Sixty-one percent of those goals were scored on two separate runs of five and six goals, respectfully.
Before you could even take off your Dinosaur Bar-B-Que bib, it was 2-0, courtesy of K-Hawks Austin Shanks. And while his stick strings were perfect, the second-year pro tossed in five more! That's 39 percent of the scoring alone.
But there was a shining light Saturday in the performance of Bandit Shawn Evans. He was everywhere on the floor. From scooping 10 loose balls, to steer wrestling 6-foot-5 Paul Dawson to the floor, to firing 11 shots on net and registering a 1+4 night. And I'm sure his one-liners to the K-Hawk players out on the turf were priceless.
Talk about a quick turnaround. Sunday's 15-5 victory over New England brought back the real Buffalo Bandits - and that is a good thing!
After an eight-hour bus ride from the Button City to Mohegan Sun Arena, the Bandits odd-some-hours of rest made them cranky and honest at the same time, and the end result was just perfect. In a victory over the Black Wolves, the team indeed returned to the style of play we've grown accustomed to of late.
Even with Josh Byrne out of the lineup for the weekend (and next weekend, too) with a lower-body injury, to a teammate, everyone chipped in.
This Saturday night, the Bandits host the Colorado Mammoth. It will be very emotional inside KeyBank Center as we celebrate Tucker Out Lymphoma Night, which highlights Tucker Williams, who at age eight, lost his battle to Burkitt Lymphoma four years ago.
As one posted on social media this week, if there’s only one Bandit game you plan on attending this season, please make it this one.
After all the pain and suffering he endured, it was Tucker who wanted to raise awareness and create a fund for other kids and families who are challenged by cancer.
And here we are with the sixth Tucker Out Lymphoma Night, a salute to Tucker and the continuation of his message and fundraising campaign for Pediatric Cancer care.
"We have experienced such an enormous amount of love and support from everyone in our lives," said Tamara Williams, Tucker's mom. "The Bandits players and staff, especially Scott Loffler, and Banditland have stood by us and supported our family since we lost Tucker.
"They honor him by supporting so many other pediatric patients and their families through the PUNT Foundation as well as research at Roswell Park and Tucker’s Fund through Sick Kids Foundation."
As in the past Tucker Nights, the Bandits will wear a special issue Tucker Out Lymphoma Night uniform, with the Tucker inspired character in the crest, and, a patch on the upper right shoulder, twilled with "Tucker, Braver than Brave."
Colorado will wear the specially themed Tucker uniforms with their colors and same crest, as Tucker's dad, Shawn, one of the greatest players of the game, is now an assistant coach with the Mammoth. In addition, Ryan Benesch, who played four seasons with the Bandits, was a close friend of Tucker, and he will be making his first return to Buffalo since being traded in the summer of 2017.
It feels like yesterday, everybody with the Bandits organization can still hear the echoes of Tucker’s laughing and whooping-it-up with his buddies when they played hallway lacrosse while dad, Shawn, was a player with the Bandits.
"We are blessed to have a very close family. Shawn, Dyson, and Dylana are my best friends. We all support each other, laughing, crying, and just being there for one another," Tamara said.
The players jerseys are up for auction now by clicking here. In addition to a portion of the tickets sales going to pediatric cancer care, there will be other fundraising and awareness activities throughout the evening.
It was a typical start of the day for any family of five a handful of years ago. There was nothing out of the ordinary other than a few tired yawns and quiet speak while piling in the car. Even reviewing the children facial features from the rearview mirror showed no results of any ills or drama.
Today, that start of day for the Williams family of five will forever be remembered. One of those William's quiet speaks changed to "I don't feel good and I'm so tired," from son Tucker.
With caution yes, but soon remedied with rest, liquids and love. It's so simple, so innocent. Taking care of your child, no matter what the problem might be, is second nature. Such was the case with Tamara and Shawn looking after Tucker.
But those "don't feel goods and tiredness" turned to worries, wondering, and the worst. The latter of which Tamara and Shawn faced following the simplest of care, to the deepening of tests and probes, to the news any parent fears to hear: "Your child is very sick with cancer."
From throat surgery, which spawned the phrase "Braver than Brave,” Tucker would not feel sorry for himself and by no means quit. One of the nurses coined the phrase after Tucker requested potato chips coming out of the operation.
Ten radiation treatments, tests of the heart and lungs, blood transfusions and a bone marrow transplant from his brother, Dyson, the most heart-wrenching sentences followed.
"There is nothing more we can do. There are no more options. This is terminal."
Oh my God.
Surely this can't be happening, and in today's medical world, you always expect a remedy; you just do.
Tucker battled hard, never letting ills in his way. He took the love from his family and friends and created a motto:
Live more. Laugh more. Love more.
Tucker lost is battle to Burkitt Lymphoma on Dec. 17, 2014.
"Every day is a challenge, I’m not going to sugarcoat our new reality,” Tamara said. “There are so many reminders of Tucker throughout every day. Not making his lunch, his empty seat on the couch and at the kitchen table, watching his friends grow up, and his empty bedroom.
"It’s so hard but we live for Dyson and Dylana and try and make Tucker proud in everything we do. I’m back teaching in a grade two classroom, the grade Tucker was in when he was diagnosed. I was so anxious at first, but my class is amazing and it has been very healing for me to surround myself with children again."
I am not a drop-to-the-knees kind of guy with most issues, but when it comes to my children and grandchildren, I am as emotional as they come. Worried on a whim of a sniffle, a skinned knee, or a sting, anything more, I would be a wreck.
To lose a child at such a young age to cancer, and all the pain associated? I, for one, would be taken over with grief and pain never to be patched.
"Give yourself permission to grieve and feel sad,” Tamara said. “It’s ok to cry and to cry as much and for as long as they need to. I was paralyzed by my grief for a very long time and couldn’t function outside of our house without breaking down. Losing a child isn’t natural.
"The pain never goes away but you do learn to cope with life and your new reality if you put yourself out there. Look at your child’s pictures every day, fill your house with them, stay connected with their friends, and carry them in your heart.
Tucker had bravery, spunk and a positive attitude - as his mother attests. And while we are keeping Tucker's phrases close to our hearts, Tamara has rounded up all the meanings and shares a simple thought, which hangs on a wall: "Every Day is a Gift."
And to share with those families who are faced with the worst situation:
"I would encourage you to spend every moment you can with your child, keep a journal and organize doctors notes and information,” she said. “Take lots of pictures and videos but stay in the moment and be present. Be an advocate for your child and a partner with your child’s oncology team. Use your voice, ask questions and reach out to others who have or have had the same diagnosis. Always stay positive and be honest with your child when and where it’s appropriate.
"You can never give your child too much love or share too many hugs and cuddles. I truly believe that our love keeps Tucker alive in our hearts and that he is always with us."
Let's share that in Banditland Saturday night for Tucker.
Coverage of the Bandits vs. Mammoth game will be on B/R Live online service. You can purchase the game, buy monthly or the rest of the season at BRLive.com. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m.
Steve Bermel joins me in the booth while Dave Buchanan reports from between the benches inside KeyBank Center.
Radio coverage will be on ESPN 1520 and WGWE 105.9FM in Salamanca. The pregame show will start at 7 p.m.
Head coach Rich Kilgour and player Kevin Brownell will join us during the pregame show segments.