‘It was an amazing moment’
By Steven Hoffman
When the Kennett football team took the field for the first home game of the 2016 season on Sept. 2, two extraordinary youngsters led the way.
Grayson Savery, a first-grader who has battled pediatric brain cancer since the age of two, and his older brother Aydan, charged out to the field followed by the football team as the large home crowd cheered in delight.
Their parents, Tim and Jaclyn Savery, said that the experience was something that they will never forget.
“It was an amazing moment,” Jaclyn explained.
Tim Savery said that Grayson is a football fan—he roots for the Eagles—so it was a great experience to lead the Kennett team out onto the field for the game against Chichester.
Grayson is a first-grader at New Garden Elementary, while his brother is a second-grader at the school. Grayson was diagnosed with a form of pediatric brain cancer, medullary fibrillary astrocytoma, on Oct. 31, 2012. Since that time, the Kennett community has been inspired by Grayson’s courageous fight against pediatric brain cancer.
“The Kennett School District has always rallied around our own, and we want Grayson and his family to know that they have our unwavering support. That’s what we do,” said superintendent Dr. Barry Tomasetti. “Our prayers for Grayson’s complete recovery are with him each and every day.”
Grayson’s tumor is enmeshed in his brain stem, the stem-like part of the base of the brain that is connected to the spinal cord and controls the flow of messages between the brain and the rest of the body. The brain stem controls basic body functions such as breathing, swallowing, heart rate, blood pressure, and consciousness. Grayson underwent a total of 18 months of weekly chemotherapy at Children’t Hospital of Philadelphia. The tumor is currently stable.
“He is a larger-than-life kid,” Jaclyn explained. “Through it all, he always wanted to live. He was diagnosed at the age of 2. We’ve come a long way since then.”
She explained that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and having her sons serve as the honorary captains for the football team will help raise awareness.
The Savery brothers not only got to lead the football team on the field, there were special activities at halftime, too.
Leon Spencer, who is the announcer at Kennett’s home games, introduced Grayson and Aydan to the crowd. Spencer noted that Aydan supported his younger brother throughout the battle with cancer, and the Savery family illustrated what could be accomplished with “a little bit of love and whole lot of hope.”
A large crowd of people, many of them wearing gold or yellow for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, gathered near the east end zone while Kennett players took the field with Grayson. Chichester’s defensive players lined up against them. Grayson took a handoff and raced toward the end zone with the crowd roaring in delight. The cheering rose to a crescendo as Grayson crossed the goal line.
The evening then got even more amazing when it was announced that the Chichester football team, marching band, and cheerleaders organized a campaign to collect more than $500 in gifts for Grayson.
“He’s such an inspiration,” said Karen Baney, a cheerleading coach for Chichester. Baney was one of the people involved in the effort to collect gifts for Grayson, and she explained that the boy’s courageous fight against cancer is something that she can personally relate to. She is a cancer survivor herself, and her father is currently battling pancreatic cancer. Four years ago, Baney lost a brother to lung cancer.
Baney’s sister, Denise Kunzig, has a son in Kennett High School, and when she found out about Grayson being honored at a football game between Kennett and Chichester, she helped spread the word about the activities being planned. The Chichester football community was eager to help.
Kennett football coach Doug Langley said that the school’s athletic director, Sean Harvey, reached out to Chichester officials about the plan to have Grayson and Aydan take the field with the Kennett offense and score a touchdown as the crowd cheered him on.
“It was a really good moment,” Langley said. “I think the (Savery) boys really enjoyed it, and I know the guys on my team really liked it.”
This is not the first time that the Kennett school community has united to support one of its own. Last spring, a high school student, John Paul Dean, was diagnosed with stage four non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
“It was very gratifying to see how our school community rallied around this young man and his family,” Tomasetti said. “John Paul demonstrated unwavering spirit and courage during his time of recovery. His cancer is in remission and he has moved on to the next step in life, as he entered Emory Riddle University this fall.”