Lacrosse served as more than just a sport Thursday. It was a bonding tool for two teams supporting the same 12-year-old girl, despite having never met her face-to-face.
Players from Holy Trinity and Friends Academy stood in unison at midfield in the shape of the letter “M,” waving to a drone taking video overhead, in support of Mary Ruchalski, a sixth grader from Rockville Centre.
Ruchalski plays for Team Elevate 2023, a club lacrosse team coached by Dave Kotowski, who also coaches the Titans. Victoria Kotowski, the Quakers coach and Dave’s daughter, also knows Ruchalski well.
Ruchalski has been fighting brain cancer for nearly two months and has been receiving treatments at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, keeping her out of school, Dave Kotowski said. When he scheduled a non-league game against his daughter’s team, he knew it would be the ideal time to raise money for pediatric cancer.
Holy Trinity defeated Friends Academy, 12-9, and Claire Schmitt scored four of her six goals in the second half. But Schmitt knew this game was about more than the score.
“It’s different because we don’t know her, but I feel like I do know her,” Schmitt said. “We actually texted her before the game and told her that we were playing for her today. She’s such a sweet girl.”
Players from both teams wore white T-shirts in warmups with “Play for Mary” across the front. Nearly everyone on the field, coaches included, had “MR” drawn on their calves. Orange “With Mary” bracelets were given to everyone in attendance by her Team Elevate 2023 teammates.
Holy Trinity (8-3) has adopted the hashtag #YouGotThisMary as a motto. Dave Kotowski said it has served as a way to help cheer Ruchalski up during her chemotherapy.
“We went through the winter, and we finished every single practice with ‘You got this, Mary,’ in the huddle,” he said. “And we sent her a video from every single practice just to keep her spirits up.”
Ruchalski has also motivated Friends Academy (4-2).
“It’s kind of been a theme for our whole season, to play for her,” Victoria Kotowski said. “We’ve been wearing ‘MR’ on our hands, and it’s definitely been a driving force this season.”
Although Friends Academy is not allowed to fundraise because of school policy, the Quakers coach said players donated individually, and parents were encouraged to make donations to Sloan Kettering.
More than $1,400 was raised during the game, said Dave Kotowski, with more expected after private donations and a bake sale planned for next week.
Ruchalski received treatment at the same time as the game, so she and her family were unable to attend. Her older sisters, Ashley, 23, and Lyndsey, 20, arrived after the game to give thanks to the Titans for their support.
“Mary, throughout her life, has been known to be an athlete and a teammate, so it’s really nice to have games like this where family, friends and even strangers come together and rally behind her,” Lyndsey Ruchalski said. “It means a lot to us.”
On Thursday, everyone played for Mary.