SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- “He is small but mighty,” Cheryl Donovan said of her 5-year-old son Liam as he paraded around Wexler Field in his newly gifted knee-lengthed Raiders lacrosse jersey, “It’s my thing that I always say.”
Liam, born with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, was not expected to make his first birthday according to doctors due to delayed growth and development, undeveloped muscles, heart abnormalities and seizures. In addition to the defects, Liam also has had trouble communicating. Although his mother knows he has trouble verbally, it doesn’t mean he is different from anyone else.
“A lot of people look to me after asking a question instead of asking him. If I tell him ‘get mommy her shoes’ he’ll understand and bring them to me. He understands,” Donovan said.
On April 12, Liam turned five, and his mother decided she wanted something very special for her son. Knowing of his love affair with cards and pictures, Cheryl posted to Facebook in hopes of gaining the attention of social media to help Liam out with gifts. The page eventually surfaced to NJ.com, where a story was written about Liam and his back-story.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Nick Miceli, a phys ed teacher at Park Middle School who involves special-education students into his class, discovered the article and instantly found a place in his heart for Liam.
“I really feel like if you look at a kid or families that have to go through what Liam does every single day, you can’t sweat the small stuff,” Miceli said. “Liam is a kid who may not ever be able to play a team sport. Or a family that won’t be able to watch their kid play a team sport. It shows that we shouldn’t take anything for granted. I’m a big believer in that. If you're going to do anything do it 100%, don’t take any time off.”
A few days after reading the story, Miceli had the lacrosse team fill out a card for Liam. Along with the card would be a picture of the team with “Happy Birthday Liam” titled on the front. But instead of sending out the card to Liam’s house, Miceli was able to come in contact with the Donovan family and extended an invitation to attend Tuesday’s game against Hillsborough.
“I think all of us were a little teary eyed (when Scotch Plains invited us to the lacrosse game),” Cheryl Donovan said. “It meant a lot to us that they cared and it’s very exciting to see him going out here.”
After the Donovan family arrived to the game, Miceli presented the family with a package of presents: the card and picture, an SPFHS lacrosse jersey and a package of Yahoo chocolate milk with straws. The chocolate milk was a special gift for Liam, as he was finally able to accomplish drinking from a straw a couple months ago. An event like this gave Miceli a perspective on how to view life.
“This is a kid celebrating using a straw,” Miceli said. “We shouldn’t complain about the little things.”
The influence of Liam’s appearance was not only felt on Miceli, but members of the team.
“Liam shows us the value of everything in life,” senior captain David Walker said “Even the small things.”
“He is a warrior,” senior captain Riley Guma said.
Fellow senior captain, Richard Nardone, said having Liam come was both “emotional” and “powerful”.
Even if Liam was able to motivate so many people on Tuesday afternoon, there is one person that is most moved by him: Cheryl.
“(What makes Liam inspiring is him) just being told he wasn’t going to be able to do a lot of things and he’s doing them anyway,” said Cheryl Donovan. “He’s very, very tough.”
Later, Donovan posted on Liam's Leaps and Bounds Facebook page: "A big thank you to the scotch plains-fanwood high school Lacrosse team for making Liam an honorary captain. We loved seeing his face light up and are honored. Thank you coach Nick."
Liam also served as a good luck charm for the lacrosse program, as the Raider defeated Hillsborough,15-8, improving to 7-8.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood will next be at home for Senior Day on Thursday against Oratory while Hillsborough will face off against Voorhees on Thursday.
All photos courtesy of Rick Guma.