AVON, Oct. 16 – This was supposed to be Robby Brisco’s season to play varsity soccer at Avon High.
Last fall, he played on the junior varsity team – a tough task for a junior and a young man who had played soccer since the age of 4. Brisco was looking to follow in the footsteps of his older brothers, Will and Thomas, who had played for the Falcons.
But there were 10 seniors ahead of Brisco and his friends. Those 10 seniors helped the Avon boys soccer team earn a spot in the Class L championship game for the first time since 2004. It was a game that Bunnell-Stratford won, 3-0.
Instead of sitting and watching the varsity, Brisco got plenty of playing time, continuing to improve his game, preparing for his opportunity.
However, it’s an opportunity that Brisco and his family never imagined.
Brisco is a member of the varsity team. He is a co-captain of a Falcon team that won 10 of its first 12 games. But he’s not running across the fields of green grass at Fisher Meadows as he did as a boy with his friends for much of his childhood.
Brisco is battling cancer. He has already had his knee and part of his femur replaced. He has been undergoing chemotherapy since February. Even this fall, he continues to receive chemotherapy treatment to attack cancer cells in his lungs.
On a recent sunny afternoon at Fisher Meadows, Brisco loped onto the field to help his teammates prepare for a game against Somers. Doctors won’t allow him to participate in contact sports anymore and Brisco is still building up strength in his new artificial knee.
But he is here as he has been for nearly every practice and game this season. On this afternoon, he took some shots on goalie Phil Lopreiato to help him warm up for the game. Later, he directed passes to his teammates as they practice shooting on net.
The amazing thing is that about four weeks earlier, he was on crutches with a brace on his leg and trouble walking.
“Robby brings a real work ethic and the belief that you can overcome just about anything,” Lopreiato said.
Co-captain Jackson Davey said, “He is an inspiration. He comes out and warms up with us and lays off passes for us to shoot. He is a positive influence and everyone looks up to him. We’re just trying to get him to play.”
That has been a goal all season. Avon High coach Patrick Mulligan hopes that Brisco is strong enough to kickoff in the final regular season game against Ellington on Monday (Oct. 29) at Fisher Meadows at 4 p.m.
“He is the embodiment of the virtues that coach Mulligan is always preaching about – hard work and personal integrity,” Lopreiato said.
Brisco can’t help the Falcons on the field. But he is a contributor. He helps Mulligan set up drills in practice, offers a tip to a younger player and keeps things moving along as most team captains do. He participates in drills as best as he can and continues to push himself. He began taking shots on net in mid-October.
As he does with all of his players, Mulligan continues to push Brisco to improve. “I treat him as a kid, not a sick kid,” Mulligan said. “I told Robby that I yelled at your brothers and I’m going to yell at you, too. So start working.”
Mulligan didn’t hesitate in naming Brisco as a co-captain. “He embodies everything you want from a leader. The fact that he was dealt a horrible injury doesn’t stop him from being a leader and being who he is. It seemed natural for him to step into that position.”
Brisco isn’t the loud and boisterous type. He is more of a quiet leader that leads by example.
“Right now, I have a goal. Obviously, I want to run,” Brisco said. “It won’t be the same style or technique. It will look a little different.”
It’s been a whirlwind for Robby and his family. “How quickly things change,” said his mother, Liz.
It was after the fall 2011 season that one of Brisco’s knees began to bother him. An x-ray was inconclusive. Rest didn’t help nor did physical therapy. He passed on playing indoor soccer or running on the indoor track team.
Eventually, a MRI revealed a tumor in his femur and it was diagnosed as a childhood bone cancer. Additional tests showed cancer had spread to both of his lungs. By February, treatment had begun.
There have been surgeries and chemotherapy for Robby. His brothers, Will and Thomas, put their college educations on hold to return home to spend time with their brother. Both are taking classes in the greater Hartford area at this time.
The support from friends and neighbors has been a blessing for Liz and her husband, Doug.
“The community has been overwhelming positive,” said Liz Brisco. “We’re very blessed to live in such a wonderful place. There are dinners left for us, groceries and bagels on the weekends. I can’t thank people enough. My heart is overflowing with gratitude. You can’t know how much it helps.”
Several fundraisers have been held including an indoor soccer tournament at Avon High last spring.
The proceeds from the annual Spirit Week night soccer games featuring the Avon boys and girls soccer teams against arch-rival Suffield went to benefit the Oncology and Hematology unit at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford where Brisco has been getting treatment for the past few months. The Avon boys and girls teams wore gold jerseys in the games to signify pediatric cancer awareness.
For Brisco, the battle for his health will continue and so will his assistance to his teammates as they prepare for the final two games of the regular season (at Enfield, Oct. 26 and Ellington, Oct. 29) and the CIAC Class L tournament.