High school soccer team rallies around teammate with cancer


When you’re on a high school sports team, you know there’s always a special bond. 

The First Colonial High School varsity soccer team knows that all too well.  That’s why, when one of their team members got sick, they had to do something.

The strength of friendship is often tested when things get tough.  For this team, things getting tough only made them stronger, this season teaching them about more than wins and losses.

“Through this whole situation we’ve really come together,” said junior captain Tommy Dye.

In the middle of the team’s season, junior John Byrd was diagnosed with cancer. 

“I just kind of slowly, like went away from myself,” said John Byrd.  “I would’ve never, I don’t know, just thought it wouldn’t happen to me or something. but I don’t know, it did.”

After doctors found multiple tumors, John spent about a month in CHKD.  He’s now home and still going through treatment. 

He had to miss a lot of the season, but his team never forgot about him.

“One of our team goals every game was, you know, win for John, play for John,” said Coach Justin “Juice” Pantophlet.

Not only did they hang a picture of John in their field house, they took it a step further.

“In support of John, lets just do something simple and shave our heads,” said junior captain Mason McClendon.

So, the team went to John’s house, and almost all of them let their locks fall.

“It made me pretty happy to see them, that they would support me like that,” John said.  “Even though some looked bad with shaved heads.”

Their coach is moved by their actions.  Pantophlet said, “They think more of other people than they do of themselves.”

Plus, it united the team.

“It’s brought us together and it’s been a big reason why we made it so far,” said Dye.

The lessons they learned from this season are bigger than any trophy they could win. 

“We have our ups and downs on the field and we have our ups and downs in life, but the character of these guys and their willingness to work for each other it showed,” Pantophlet said. 

Which is why, after a loss in the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs, these team captains are all smiles. 

“It’s just a joy to always be with him,” McClendon said. 

Showing their friend they’re on his team, no matter what. 

Byrd said, “It’s helped a lot, mentally for me, knowing that I’m going to get through it.”

Today, they know lessons this season have taught them, and the bonds they’ve formed aren’t going anywhere.

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