One Shining Moment For One Tough Kid
by Jeff Jacobs, Hartford Courant
November 1, 2012
AVON — Robby Brisco doesn't know for sure what will happen next week or next month or next year. In the end, none of us do. The Avon senior did know this much late Thursday afternoon at Fisher Meadows. He was going to put all of his foot into that soccer ball.
So as the Avon players huddled before their 4-3 victory over Ellington — Brisco's head sticking above his Falcon teammates — the first rumblings began on the sidelines. As he lined up to kick off, the sound grew fuller along the sidelines. "Rob-by! Rob-by! Rob-by!" parents and fans chanted on Senior Day. Players clapped along rhythmically.
Avon coach Patrick Mulligan had been planning this moment for months. He had secured the OK from Ellington coach Roy Gurnon. The officials were aware of what was about to happen.
And with that, the 6-3 Brisco, despite his competitive instincts, put his right foot into that soccer ball and kicked it directly out of bounds. Fighting an aggressive and rare form of bone cancer, Brisco was immediately subbed out. It would be hyperbole to call it the greatest one-second athletic career in Connecticut high school history. It would be fact to call it among the most moving.
"It was pretty cool," said Brisco, who no longer is allowed to play contact sports.
"Robby wanted to do more," assistant coach David Zlatin said. "He was asking me, 'Can I be out there for a minute? How about the first five?' I said, 'Robby, I'd love to, but we just can't.' He deserves that kick. He has been at every practice. He has been at every game."
While Brisco's right leg did the busy work on this November day, the start of this story is in his left leg. A large piece of titanium stretches from high above his knee to inches below it. To call the result a knee replacement doesn't do it justice.
"It is," Brisco's dad Doug said, "a bionic leg."
At the end of last season, Robby was having persistent pain in his knee. The three Brisco brothers all played soccer at Avon. They know about getting beat up. Soccer? Running? Skiing? Snowboarding? Something caused the pain.
Robby eventually went to the doctor, had an X-ray, did some physical therapy. Only nothing worked.
An MRI would reveal a tumor in his femur. In February, he was diagnosed with desmoplastic small-round-cell tumor. Further scanning, showed the cancer already had metastasized to his lungs.
Robby had surgery on his leg in May. The first round of chemo lasted eight rounds before it was deemed ineffective. Robby had surgery on his right lung in July.
"We felt so much for him," co-captain Jackson Davey said. "But Robby was always happy. He came occasionally to school last year, it made everyone else happy. He's just so positive. I've seen him in pain and he's smiling. He's an inspiration."
"Being negative doesn't change anything," Robby said. "Being positive makes everything better for everyone."
Doug said the chemo regimen was changed. He called it Plan B. "It's a different blend," Doug said. "This cancer is so uncommon that there's no one way of treatment."
Bald from the original chemo, Robby's hair has been growing back. He has gained 20 pounds. His body has responded. On crutches in the summer, he now can run at a full jog.
The chemo continues. He has to go in again Monday morning. Unlike the original chemo, when he went into the hospital for six days, he is able to do this as an outpatient.
"After all the surgeries, and since Rob has gotten his strength back, we're just following his lead," Brisco's mom Liz said. "He's the one who wanted to go back to school full time. So I went back to work full time. He's going for his driver's license. He's going to volunteer in a tutoring program. He wants go to Barcelona on the school trip in February. He's looking at joining the swim team. He's not going to let it stop him. He's going to keep fighting through it all."
"Robby has taken it better than anyone else in the family," Doug said.
Liz is a teacher at Avon Middle School. She knows the players and their siblings. She knows the parents. She knows better than anyone what the Avon community has done.
Last spring, there was a Kickin' It 4 Robby tournament. Last week, the boys and girls soccer teams wore gold jerseys for pediatric cancer awareness during the annual Spirit Week games. Money was raised to help the Brisco family with medical expenses and for the Connecticut Children's Medical Center where Brisco is treated.
"People have been unbelievable," Liz said. "The things they have done to help us, groceries, dinners, fundraisers, notes of encouragement, gift cards. It's humbling. We are so thankful."
Tony Romo wrote Robby a message on Doug's CaringBridge.com web page. Wayne Rooney and Tom Brady sent autographed pictures. His brothers, Will and Thomas, have returned home from out of state to attend college locally. There are reminders large and small of what a special young man he is and what he means to people.
"Robby doesn't like to be the center of attention," Liz said. "He's learning to deal with that."
Robby is going to have radiation on his lungs and then more chemo that will last probably into March, according to Doug. "The tumor in his left lung shrunk and there are no new ones," he said. "We're very hopeful, encouraged by the scans we had last month."
Science also says the five-year survival rate of DRSCT is only 15%.
"You can't think about the future," Liz said. "We're hopeful and prayerful. We are glad for each day."
So it came back to this moment on the pitch at Fisher Meadows.
A moment the Brisco family and their Avon family awaited since the beginning of the season. Mulligan was unable to attend the game, but he was the one instrumental in keeping Robby involved. Pre-game warmups, practice, you name it. Named Robby his co-captain. This moment, Zlatin said, was Mulligan's way of saying thank you.
"Coach Mulligan has been wonderful in keeping Rob as part of the team," Doug said. "He arranged this with the Ellington coach and it was a true act of sportsmanship."
Emotional for mom? Of course it was. "Emotional because of what it took for Rob to get here," Liz said. "Emotional because of all the support we have received, and for us as a family because he's our third child playing soccer since they were 4 and this is our last Senior Day. This is it."
Davey, a co-captain, took the field with Brisco. He had badly torn his MCL earlier in the season against Ellington. The coaches wanted Davey out there, too, and Davey wanted to be there when Brisco put his right foot into that soccer ball.
"It was an awesome moment," Davey said. "Everyone was so proud of him. If you could have seen him at the start of the season, he could barely walk. We drove him. He drove himself. He can kind of run now and the fact the he can wind up and kick the ball is unbelievable. I can complain about my injury, but it's nothing. Robby Brisco is the definition of tough."
Brisco would find his own piece of emotion in the moment. Because the Falcons had 10 seniors on their state finals team last season, he had played junior varsity. The one moment would be his first on varsity.
"Robby wanted to do this, but he didn't want it to be a big deal. The other kids realize it is a big deal. Our manager's writing in the lineup and goes, 'Is Robby starting?' I go, 'Write his name in. You know what he said? My name's in the book. It's official."
It's official. One shining moment in Connecticut high school athletic history.