How The CUA Lacrosse Program and Two Families Inspired Each Other

This article is written by PATRICK STAPLETON for The Tower, which is the student newspaper at The Catholic University of America. 

Two special people have joined the CUA community this year and both have played special roles on the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams. While they may not be in college yet, their words and actions have inspired the teams and shown them that there is much more to life than lacrosse.

Lucienne Penney, who while in utero suffered a grade-four brain hemorrhage, the worst of its kind, was adopted by the Catholic women’s lacrosse team and now, plays a big role in the pre-game huddle and supporting her teammates.

The severity of such a severe hemorrhage could have been life-threatening to Lucienne, who is now four years old.

“If she survived, they told us they weren’t sure if she would ever walk,” said Lucienne’s mother, Kati Penney.

Bryan Cox, who is eight years old, was diagnosed with a JPA brain tumor in September of 2008. While most of the tumor has been removed, 15 percent is still lodged on his brain stem.

“While undergoing chemotherapy, Bryan has had a number of setbacks,” said Kevin Cox, Bryan’s father. “In the fall, he had pneumonia, was hospitalized and missed weeks of school.”

One program, the Friends of Jaclyn, has brought these two kids to the University community. Started in 2005, the charitable organization has given 200 kids across the country, with pediatric brain tumors, a chance to be a part of a college sports team.

Whether they are cheering on the sidelines or participating in the huddle, those kids are a true inspiration to all who know them. The foundation includes 20 different sports and its popularity has reached such levels that over 1,000 schools are currently on a waiting list to participate.

The CUA women’s lacrosse team was on the waitlist for over a year, before Friends of Jaclyn contacted Coach Meghan McDonogh with a child for her team to adopt, Lucienne.

According to McDonogh, the Penney family was the perfect match for her team. Both Kati and Jon Penney are Catholic University alums and the team was eager to make Lucienne and her family welcomed.

“It was definitely worth the wait,” said McDonogh. “I can’t imagine a better family for our team.”

ESPN has played a vital role in bringing Lucienne and Bryan to Catholic.

“We heard about FOJ through a highlight on ESPN Sportscenter,” said Kati Penney. 

While the Penney family heard about the Friends of Jaclyn themselves, a family friend of the Cox’s suggested that they look into the program, after watching a feature of the foundation on ESPN.

“We went to the website and filled out a form describing Bryan and his condition,” said Kevin Cox. “FOJ told us that they found a local team for us – CUA.”

Over the lacrosse season, Bryan and Lucienne have grown closer together with their respective lacrosse teams.

“Our relationship with the team has extended beyond lacrosse games,” said Kati Penney. “They have played lacrosse in our yard with all of our children and told stories over dinner. They have provided us with moments we will never forget.”

Coach McDonogh has been amazed by the energy of Lucienne.

“Lucienne is one of the happiest and sweetest little girls I have ever met,” said McDonogh. “I think that she has really stolen all of our hearts.”

Brooks Singer, head coach of the men’s team, has appreciated the impact that Bryan has had on his team.

“He inspires each one of us in different ways,” said Singer. “We hope that we can give back to them [Cox family] and to Bryan, as much as they and Bryan have given to us.”

When asked about the best part of having Bryan on his team, Singer responded, “I know we all love to see that big smile on Bryan’s face when he is around the team, and hanging out with the guys.”

Most sports teams, whether professional or collegiate, have been known to follow an inspirational, historical quote, on which they base their season on. The men’s lacrosse team play with four simple words in the back of their minds: “I can, I will!” That quote has become the theme of the season for the 9-3 Cardinals. The person who thought of that message was Bryan.

“When we asked Bryan if he had any words for the team, he immediately said, ‘I can – I will’,” said Kevin Cox. “We were floored. Those are strong words coming from an eight-year-old. They [men’s lacrosse team] also printed ‘BELIEVE’ on the back of their practice jerseys.”

Lucienne, limited by her disabilities, has finally found the perfect source to embrace the energetic side of her personality.

“The CUA girls lacrosse team has no barriers,” said Lucienne’s mother. “They accept Lucienne for who she is. Lucienne may see things her own way and walk or run her own way, but by the team – that way is okay.”

Lucienne’s favorite part of being a member of the 8-6 Cardinals is when she is surrounded by her fellow teammates in the huddle, according to her mother.

The reason Coach McDonogh is so grateful for the “Friends of Jaclyn” program is because of the amazing pint-sized toddler that has brought so much energy to her team.

“It [having Lucienne on the team] has been an amazing source of light for our team this year,” said McDonogh.

The impact has not only been felt by the players and coaches of the CUA lacrosse teams, but by the Cox and Penney families as well.

“Please know what the lacrosse team is doing is amazing and touches our heart,” said Kevin Cox. “We really don’t think the boys have any idea how much they are helping – not just Bryan, but all of us. Being around the CUA Men’s Lacrosse team has been one of the most wonderful gifts our family has experienced throughout this challenging time.”

The Penney family has benefited as well.

“In every relationship, every one can gain and learn something,” said Mrs. Penney.

These two stories reveal how two families and a lacrosse program came together to form a special bond, which has not only improved each of their lives, but has left a lasting memory for everyone involved.

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