The Boy with the Bucket List: 'I will remember that day forever'
Boise, Idaho (KBOI) - On any given day, you'll find the Boise State lacrosse team deep in practice, practice being a funny word for it because the players clearly know the routine.
They're a well-oiled machine of stick and sinew and sublime grace. But this is no ordinary day, because the roster includes three newbies-boys, actually; too young to be students but not too young to appreciate a sport that requires the stamina of soccer and the coordination of dance.
And on the sidelines of the practice field, one is intent on getting a too-big helmet securely on his head. He's Tyson Henderson, age 12, and already older than his years. His mom, Marni, is a few feet away.
"He's never played lacrosse," she says. "He's been waiting for the season, so this is such a special day." Or it will be if he can just get the practice jersey on. One of the players notices Tyson's little struggle and grins.
"It comes with practice," he offers in an assuring way.
You look at Tyson and he seems every bit the kid you'd expect to be knee-deep in video games and the silly dreams that only someone his age could consider important. But Tyson's dream that isn't silly at all. And it's one he's willing to share with the world: he aches to play lacrosse and to impress the one man who matters most in his life-his dad, Tyler, who has brain cancer.
Marni says, "When Tyler decided to stop treatment because his quality of life was declining, the boys both made wish lists that they wanted to do with their dad. And this is probably the biggest one on Tyson's list." (>>>>> Watch Tyson's Story )
It's a tall order, though, because Tyson isn't yet a star in the sport and his dad always has been more a fan of football. In fact, he's been coaching Tyson for years. But knowing all this doesn't faze BSU lacrosse coach Paul Rocchio, no stranger to molding eager young recruits into lacrosse champions. Before he brings the boys out on the practice field, Rocchio admonishes his players. "We're gonna go nice and slow," he says, "But get them moving so we can play some lacrosse."
Rocchio has arranged for Tyson and his two best friends to be Broncos for the day and for dad to be there to watch from the sidelines. That, too, is a tall order. Tyler's in hospice care and today has willed himself to leave his sickbed and make an arduous trip across town.
"I'm so tired," he says to no one in particular. But his wife notices and tells a reporter, "It was a miracle to get him out of the house today. He thought he would watch it by video, but he's here and I think that means even more to Tyson with his dad physically here."
Though Tyler might not be as agile as the players, his drive is every bit as strong. Not on his watch will he deny his son the chance to show off his stick-handling skills. He also knows there will be no second chances. And everyone else standing nearby is fully aware that this is the first and last time dad will watch his son run the length of the field, stick in hand, lobbing balls at his team-mates. And they are team-mates. Because Coach Rocchio had a surprise for the boys at the end of practice. He'd named them captains for the day. And that was with the unanimous consent of the players.
It was overwhelming for a newbie like Tyler. "We were all like, 'whoa,'" he says. It's pretty awesome."
But that was just the beginning. According to goalie Trae Field, "We gave each player a contract, so they each signed it and now are officially on paper Boise State lacrosse players."
The generosity, the day, seeing his dad out of bed proved a little much for Tyson. When asked what he thinks this means for his dad, the boy tears up as he quietly assesses the situation.
"He's doing pretty good."
And Tyson's right about that. Because as much as he feels like a fish out of water, his dad is in awe of the generosity of the entire Bronco organization.
"I coached him in football forever and now it's lacrosse," he says. "I was hoping I would be able to see him play lacrosse. You guys, I can't thank you enough."
Tyler Henderson, perhaps better than anyone, knows hopes and dreams rarely intersect. But they sure did for his son. Later, in looking back on the day, he chuckles about his son's new found enthusiasm for a sport that dad finds a little baffling.
"When he came home, he just wanted to turn around and go back and practice."
In the days that followed, a grateful Tyson wrote a letter. "Dear Coach Rocchio," it reads, "I will remember that day forever. I also really appreciate the helmet. Thank you for everything."
Upstairs, Dad is beaming. Not just about Tyson, but also at the way the family was greeted with open arms by Coach Rocchio and his crew.
"They look you in the eye," he says, impressed, "and call you sir." And then he glances at Tyson's bucket list, tacked to the wall just out of reach. It's a reminder that no one dares alone… no one dreams alone… no one fights alone, least of all his little Warrior who will carry on the family name.
He grows quiet and then says in a near-whisper, "He's always been a good kid. Very compassionate."
For Tyson, the most memorable moment of his big day with the Broncos was when practice was over and the players looked to their Coach of the Day for inspiration. "
Tyson, make it count, " one of them said as they prepared for an end-of-practice ritual.
And then, with their sticks raised, and Tyson standing in the center of the circle, they all yelled, "1-2-3. Broncos!" Tyson looked over at his dad and knew it would be cheer to last a lifetime.
Editor's Note: Tyler Henderson, 42, died Jan. 23, 2013, two days after this interview. In lieu of flowers, family members are asking donations to be made to the Tyler Henderson Memorial Fund at any Wells Fargo Bank to support his favorite community services.