Before 10-year-old Christian Koehler died of a rare brain cancer a decade ago this month, the East Islip boy and his family enjoyed a Caribbean beach vacation courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
On Saturday, a lacrosse tournament in Christian’s honor raised money for the foundation so other boys and girls can have their wishes granted.
“The memories we were able to have because of Make-A-Wish — I’ll never forget that, so it’s very important for us to hopefully give that to another child, another family,” said Christian’s mom, Janine Koehler. “They deserve that.”
Saturday was the 10th annual Christian Koehler Lacrosse Tournament. Eighty-eight teams — with players from second through eighth grade — were scheduled to participate this year at Heckscher State Park in East Islip.
More than $350,000 has been raised in the tournament’s first nine years, with about half going to Make-A-Wish Suffolk County, said Koehler, 43. The rest went to the Children’s Brain Tumor Project and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, to fund cancer research.
Christian’s death devastated the tight-knit East Islip community, residents said.
“We felt the pain they experienced to some degree,” said Bill Bast, 50, of East Islip, as he watched his son Billy, 12, play on the East Islip Red team. “It could be any one of our kids.”
The event raises money through team registrations and through raffles of gift baskets, many of which were donated by local residents and businesses.
“Whenever this time of year you go into a store and say, ‘I’m collecting for baskets for the Christian Koehler tournament,’ they immediately say ‘yes,’ ” said Dianne Kinnear, of East Islip.
Banners with photos of Christian playing on the Red team dotted the tournament area.
Koehler said it was difficult for her and her husband, Chris, 46, and Christian's siblings Anthony, 15, and Allison, 16, to see cancer sap the energy of a happy, athletic boy who dreamed of one day playing lacrosse or football professionally.
Christian was in class at Timber Point Elementary School on May 8, 2009, when a severe headache came on. He became incoherent, had a seizure and was rushed to the hospital, where later that day, after a CT scan and an MRI, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme.
Eight days later, doctors removed the tumor. But it grew back.
The tournament in Christian’s honor is a way to “pay it forward,” to work to find cures to childhood cancers and to help other families whose children are battling cancer, Koehler said.
“It’s to have something positive come out of something so horrific,” she said. “This is what Christian would want — helping someone else.”
Krystal Roskot’s son Kyle, now 20, was a close friend of Christian. He played in early tournaments. On Saturday, son Connor, 11, was competing for the fourth year. She likes how the tournament is a way for kids to come together for a larger cause.
“It’s important for the boys to realize there’s something bigger than themselves,” Roskot said. “This shows that lacrosse is not only a team sport, but also a community sport.”