Hegarty never too far from Lions' hearts

WORCESTER, Mass. –- Pope John Paul II coach Mark Santos can still remember the moment when he heard the terrible news.

Driving back to his home last November, Santos got a call from the principal and athletic director at PJP, telling him that junior left fielder Christian Hegarty had been diagnosed with bone cancer. The tears uncontainable, he had to pull over to the side of the road to continue the conversation.

"I was a puddle," he recalled.

The first time the team was all together following the diagnosis, the decided unanimously to dedicate the 2014 season to Christian. The Lions have taken Hegarty’s blue No. 9 jersey with them to every game this year, making sure to hold up his jersey during every single team picture taken following their Division 4 state championship victory on Saturday.

“He’s just the greatest kid and he’s a great player. It got taken away from him, and our guys way back in November committed to us playing for him,” Santos said. “That jersey has come with us all year long, he’s made a few games for us, and the ones he did we won them all.”

Winning came with regularity for the Lions this year, finish the year at 26-1 after their 3-0 state title win over Western Mass. champion Hopkins Academy. Hegarty wasn’t able to make Saturday’s game because he was in the hospital receiving chemotherapy treatment, but immediately following the game Santos had one big message for his team in their huddle in right field.

“This one’s for Hegs!” Santos exclaimed.

Hegarty made sure to get in contact with the team before they departed for Worcester on Saturday, with one message to give to his proud teammates.

“He texts us all the time saying ‘go out there and win it for me. Take it home.’ That was the text we got before this. He said ‘no matter where I am, if I’m at the hospital or anything, I know that I can’t be there but bring home that state championship,” senior Ben Gibson said. “It’s always great to hear from him cause I don’t get to see him a lot, he’s in the hospital a lot due to chemo. Hearing from him, seeing him..it’s great.”

Added Santos, "He couldn’t be here today because he had chemo treatment. But I talked to him this morning and he said coach, go bring it home and get me a ring when you get it done."

A lot of the talk after the game was of the next time the Lions get to visit with Hegarty, a meeting that is sure to include a full mix of laughter and tears.

“When we first got the news it was very emotional. But we know Christian, he’s a very tough, strong kid and we knew that he was going to fight through this battle with cancer until he was victorious,” Gibson said. “It is going to be amazing, we’ll all give him a hug and probably some tears because he couldn’t be there.”