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John Beck – Martin County Strong On and Off the Field

Written by Lee Roggenburg on . Posted in .
By John McAuiffe From the first time a player puts on his pads, grabs a stick and takes the field, the “ROOTS” principles of the game are taught as a method to illustrate the sportsmanship required at every level of play. The need to respect the Rules, Officials, Opponents, Team and Self are a cornerstone of any successful team. What’s not always clear is how these time-honored principles of the fastest growing sport in America affect the players off the field. While success is often defined by the end of the season record, a U15 team in Martin County takes the definition to a much higher level not just with their winning season record, but through the character and fabric of each player on one of Florida’s most cohesive lacrosse teams. Thirteen year-old John Beck was born with Neurofibromatosis, a genetic-inherited disorder in which nerve tissue grows skin tumors and associated health conditions are expected. Among these conditions, arteries in the body constrict causing high blood pressure and other serious health issues. Despite the challenges he has faced every day of his life, John has been a die-hard competitor since the day he was born. With the soul of a sportsman, it wasn’t the typical schoolyard competitions between friends that fostered the attitude of a champion; this young man competed for his life. As an infant, he fought harder than most players will ever experience in the most strenuous of bravehearts, but the stakes were much higher. In his early years, he struggled with hypertension. He’s been through 13 surgeries. He is blind in one eye and has a daily regimen of numerous medications. One of his procedures as a young child was to insert a renal stint so his kidneys would function. Without the surgery, the odds of further complications would have made his future even more uncertain. Needless to say, it wasn’t easy for him to make the decision to join a sports team and try to fit in. Conversely, John understands it doesn’t take any talent to hustle and after some initial reluctance, he was determined to earn the respect of his peers on the field once he joined the program. Although he was no stranger to the game, John was not sure he would be a good fit for a competitive lacrosse team. He didn’t start to practice with the team at the beginning of the season because he was not sure he would be accepted and missed the season opener as his soon-to-be teammates accumulated their first victory. After encouragement from his family and head coach, John McAuliffe, he joined the Martin County Pioneers U15 team during the second week of the season. He was familiar with the game, as his brother is the leading scorer for the local J.V. high school team, and the brothers constantly have lacrosse sticks in their hands. His goal was to play with his friends, make his brother proud and finish the season strong. Needless to say, the obstacles wouldn’t be easy to overcome without the fortitude he developed from a life of contests off the field. On his first day of practice, John was a little nervous and lacked the confidence of a strong, seasoned player. During his first line drill, one of the players turned to Justin Burke, a starting attackman on the Pioneers team, and asked, “Can this kid catch?” Justin’s response was, “He’s blind in one eye, let’s see YOU pass and catch as well as he does with only one eye.” That player, a team leader like Justin, curiously closed one eye and continued the line drill. Once he realized how difficult it was to catch with such a visual impairment, he recognized the courage in his new teammate, a virtue he had not seen so pronounced in his seven years in the league. Over the next few practices, John earned the respect of the entire team and soon took to the field for his first game. That day, he enjoyed his first victory as a lacrosse player and felt part of a team. He got into his rhythm and his confidence escalated to a new level. He passes and catches, feeds the crease and has a good understanding of the game. His team and his coaches treat him like any other player and he plays like any other player. During the last few games of their winning season, the starting midfielders were determined to assist John in scoring his first goal. Anthony Senior, one of best midfielders in Martin County Pioneer Lacrosse, took John aside during a 4th quarter timeout of a late season game and said, “Stand on the crease and I will keep feeding you until you score. Just shoot!”  Henry Devault, another star player in Martin County, also embraced the strategy to bring John to the next level and the plan went into action. The whistle blew, the game continued and John attempted to score against the solid defense on another one of South Florida’s stellar leagues. Unfortunately, the defense prevailed, but the message that was sent to John by his team was clear: he was now one of them. After that game, John’s parents, Tom and Shelley Beck, approached Coach McAuliffe with feedback every coach wishes to hear from the parents of any player. Mrs. Beck said, “Thank you. What this team has done for my son is amazing!” With tears in her eyes, she and her husband explained their 7th grade son is a new person. He now gets “high fives” from his 8th grade teammates as he walks down the hall of his middle school. He has a level of confidence they have never seen before. At 13 years old and 13 surgeries, he feels that he can play a team sport in the absence of exclusion with team unity he has never known. Pioneers leader and goalie, Conner McAuliffe, was determined to save as many goals as possible and do his part to keep the ball at the other end of the field for his friend of two years, an illustration of how John unknowingly raised the bar for the whole team. On the last game of the season with his teammates behind him, John continued his efforts to get the ball to the back of the net. As he positioned himself on the crease, he didn’t score, but he learned the physical side of the game by drawing two penalties which put his team “man up” and his contribution was clear in the final victory of a 7-2 season. This young man couldn’t be happier and the 2014 season start can’t come soon enough! His parents, teammates, coaches and especially his older brother could not be prouder of him. What’s more, he couldn’t be prouder of himself! He gave his teammates, many of whom will move on to high school teams next year, something greater than the score they worked towards as he positioned himself on the crease and even more than they could have imagined. He filled them with compassion and inspired them to be the most cohesive team anywhere in Florida. What they gave him in return is far more valuable, they gave him a chance to be just like any other kid. The coaching staff agrees this team is unlike any team of gentlemen they have ever had the pleasure of coaching. As the “ROOTS” teachings were solidified in the discipline of its 21 players, John Beck is a testament to how this game can develop the hearts and minds of every person during their journey, both on and off the field.