an amazing story and a terrible loss…please read and watch

3 Responses to “an amazing story and a terrible loss…please read and watch”

  1. August 26, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    Bryan Conway, 12, followed his passion for sports to the end

    Written by J.B. Cozens
    Thursday, 26 August 2010 00:00

    The late Bryan Conway was disabled with cerebral palsy, confined to a wheelchair and unable to communicate verbally — but, according to those who knew him, that was never the way he defined who he was, or could be. It did not prevent him from dreaming big, or actively participating in the same activities as his peers. Most notably, he pursued his passion — sports — as a member of John Jay Youth Football and Lewisboro Baseball Association teams, and even showed a gift for play-calling duties for his teammates.

    His greatest gift, though, was a love of life that shone through with his smile, his enthusiasm, and the joy he felt and gave to others.

    “He was always, always, always smiling. I don’t ever remember one instance where Bryan was upset or mad,” said John Corelli, who coached Bryan in football and baseball the past four years. “He was always looking at the positive. He just enjoyed his life. He was who he was and got the very most out of it.”
    An inspiration

    Bryan, who passed away in his sleep last Thursday at the age of 12, was an inspiration to all who knew him. His loss has left a huge hole in the heart of the local sports community, and those who knew him.

    “It’s really devastating news. We’re really going to miss him,” said Mr. Corelli. “It was very sudden. It was very unexpected.”

    Bryan, who would have been a seventh grader at John Jay Middle School this fall, never let his disability stand in the way of things he liked to do, said Mr. Corelli.

    “He was the same way in other areas as he was in sports,” he said. “Whatever he did, you knew he was going to do it with enthusiasm and joy.”

    “People just didn’t know how intelligent he was, and how much he was a part of everything, or could be involved with everything,” said Liz Carugan, who worked with Bryan nearly every day over the last five summers, while studying towards her degree in special education. “He just wanted people to see past that, because he did.”

    “He had a very, very full life,” commented LBA president Greg LaSorsa, who invited Bryan to cut the ribbon to the new handicapped accessible entrance at the Lewisboro Town Park baseball field on opening day this past spring.

    It was a special memory for Mr. LaSorsa, who recalled how Bryan went right to work when handed the scissors to cut the ribbon, before being wheeled through the entrance by his grandfather.

    “It really was something that was meaningful to him,” said Mr. LaSorsa.

    Ms. Carugan said Bryan was like any other boy his age — he loved his video games and Wii, and he was passionate about sports.

    “Sports was his all-time thing,” she said.

    Calling plays

    Given the chance to participate in sports allowed Bryan the chance to enjoy that passion — and prove himself. Last year, he was given the responsibility for calling the defensive plays for his football team, and also called some plays on offense.

    “He called multiple touchdown plays,” Mr. Corelli noted.

    “I think people, when they saw him, or see anyone in a wheelchair, they don’t know their capabilities,” Ms. Carugan said. “They gave him that chance. He knew so much about the game. He just wanted to be involved, and he was.”

    “Bryan had a lot of determination and a lot of positive attitude. He did a lot of things and really wasn’t restricted by his disability,” Mr. Corelli said. “Bryan just wanted to play, just like any kid. Bryan loved sports. He loved to participate, he loved to watch. He was a big Yankees fan, and was a big football fan.”

    Ms. Carugan said Bryan’s parents, Alan and Heather, and grandparents did “everything in their power” to ensure Bryan was involved and included, and were always there to support him.

    “They didn’t see his disability. They saw he was able to do so much and they just worked to make it possible.”

    Ms. Carugan said Bryan even attended football camp the last few summers to add to his knowledge of the game.

    “He just wanted to prove to the kids that he was smart, and involved, and that he had a love for the game, even though he couldn’t do everything they could do.”
    Love of the game

    Bryan was first introduced to football playing Madden Football on Wii, and through that learned defensive strategies, formations, and what plays to call — and learned to love the game. His parents approached John Jay Youth Football about having him join a team in 2006, and Mr. Corelli — coaching one of the town’s three fourth-grade teams — agreed to take Bryan that season.

    “I don’t think anybody knew exactly how it would come out, but you had everybody willing to give it a try,” said Mr. Corelli. “He immediately became a really integral part of the team. It really took no time at all. The kids connected with him right away. It came out so well that first year, it felt natural after that.”

    Bryan was at his happiest when he was on the field with his teammates, and being part of the team.

    “I remember giving him his team fleece three years ago and you should have seen his smile — only half as big as when the kids gave him his jersey number 1, of course,” commented JJYF president Eugene McAvey.

    Eventually, Mr. Corelli and Bryan’s dad came up with the idea to use Bryan’s knowledge of the game to help call plays.

    Mr. Conway shrunk the team’s many offensive plays onto seven eye gaze boards — which utilizes the eye gaze communication system in which a person’s direct stare can provide a particular selection — and then determined Bryan’s chosen play by reading his eyes.

    Midway through Bryan’s second season, Mr. Corelli decided to turn the team’s defensive play calling over to Bryan, as the team went 7-1 and made the playoffs.

    Midway through last season, in the second half of a close game, Mr. Corelli asked Bryan to pick out an offensive play for the team’s next offensive series. He made his pick and the result was a 50-yard touchdown run.

    The following week, Bryan called two more touchdown runs.

    Mr. Corelli said a special bond grew between Bryan and his teammates.

    “They really took a special interest in him. They understood he couldn’t participate the same way as they could, but he could still participate and make a contribution,” said Mr. Corelli. “The kids learned a lot from him. They learned to stay positive. They learned if things don’t go right, to keep smiling and move on. And they learned a person can contribute, whatever their abilities are.”

    “His teammates got to love him and learn from him. He was just a huge inspiration to all of them,” said Ms. Carugan. “It opened their eyes to differences and to realize he’s not different. He’s just like each and every one of them.”

    Bryan also played a part on Mr. Corelli’s baseball teams, two of which won LBA titles in 2008 and 2009.

    “He helped make the lineup, and determine the pitching rotation,” said Mr. Corelli. “He loved to watch the games.”

    “As he got older, his ability to understand what was going on and communicate in his way was remarkable,” said Mr. LaSorsa, who like Mr. Corelli felt that Bryan’s teammates got much more from Bryan than they could ever give to him.

    “Bryan’s spirit is going to help them because of their relationship with him. It’s going to break down the barriers,” Mr. LaSorsa said.

    “He helped me so much. I learned more from him about special education than I did in the classroom. He became my teacher,” Ms. Carugan said.

    Other interests

    Bryan had other interests, too, such as skiing. He loved music, and a few years ago played the cowbell in a band in Meadow Pond School.

    He also traveled all over the country with his parents and grandparents.

    “He experienced more in his 12 years of his life than the 22 of my life. He’s been all over,” Ms. Carugan said.

    Another important thing for Bryan was friendship, she said. He spent time at Camp Chatterbox — a therapy camp in New Jersey for nonspeaking or severely speech-impaired children — during the summer months, getting a chance to interact with other kids with similar disabilities.

    “He made a lot of close friendships the last two summers with kids who were very similar to him. He valued a friend,” said Ms. Carugan.

    There was no better friend than Bryan, who, she said, had the ability to brighten anybody’s day, even if they were having a bad one.

    “Just to see him smile, everything went away,” she said. “I never heard him once complain. He made the good in every situation.”

    Mr. Corelli, who keeps a picture of Bryan on his desk, echoed that thought.

    “I look at him every day and it gives me inspiration. He has inspired every single person he has come into contact with, and he will continue to do so,” he said. “To my mind, he was a gift from God.”

    Donations in Bryan’s name may be made to Children’s Specialized Hospital Foundation, c/o Camp Chatterbox, P.O. Box 8310, Red Bank, NJ 07701.

    A video about Bryan’s contributions to his John Jay Youth Football team may be seen by clicking on YouTube here.

  2. September 3, 2010 at 5:52 PM

    Great, great story. Love to hear about coaches making a difference.

    Another very sad passing was of Jim McLaren. If you don’t know his story you should. He is one of the highlights in my inspirational speaking presentations. Here, check it out:

  3. September 8, 2010 at 12:44 PM


    received this from Bryan Conway’s parents and wanted to make sure it got up here on the blog.

    Coach Tony,

    We finally got ourselves together to hear the show and WOW what a show! We are deeply touched in so many ways.

    First, Coach Corelli did deserve all the kudos he got. He did go above and beyond. He had an open mind and an open heart and allowed Bryan to prove his ability. We never pushed for this, we just wanted to give him a chance to prove himself.

    If you will indulge me for a moment…One day in 3rd grade Bryan came home with a flier from school about the JJYF League and said he wanted to play. It was the first time ever I had to say that he couldn’t do something. We gave him every opportunity up until then to achieve whatever he wanted to do even if he had to do it in a different way. I felt very guilty for saying no to him so I decided to call the league and see if he could be the ball boy or something. Anyway that’s how it started and that’s how we met John, Ronnie and the rest of his lovely family.

    To give you a bit more information on how he communicated, he did use a voice output computer called a Dynavox Vmax. He also spent a week every summer with Anne (the mom from NH who called in) her son Galen (17) among others also with Cerebral Palsy and autisim. The camps name is Camp Chatterbox. Children from around the country who do not speak, come and learn from the director and PHD Joan Bruno, who wrote Gateway (software) used in the Dynavox. Anyway, Bryan could use his head to select words, phrases and sentences to speak, write and do school work. Unfortunately, he did not use the computer when he was on the field for two reasons. One is because the Dynavox is slower than the eye gaze boards and football is too quick moving to wait. The second is the fact that when it is sunny out, it is hard to read the boards on the Dynavox.

    As for the question about other parents and their reaction to this, we truly believe that when you have a good leader in a coach. Someone who never raised his voice, never put any child down, treated everyone with respect and fairness…that is what you get in return from your players and parents.

    Besides sports, he was also in the school band where he played the drum or the symbol. My father made a special foot pedal that worked with Bryans head switch to allow him to do so. He was also an avid skier and a very good student receiving A’s and B’s.

    Since Bryans passing we have been very surprised by the outpouring of love, respect and support. We just lived the past 12 years trying to give our physically disabled yet intelligent child, every opportunity to participate, succeed, fail and feel everything any other child might know in life. He knew he was different but he liked himself anyway. We didn’t think he affected anyone the way he did. He was just enjoying life and loved to challenge himself.

    I hope we did not go into too much here but you seemed really interested in who Bryan was and we want you to know that he was a well rounded, happy, and healthy person who was college bound and in his eyes NFL bound. He was taken too soon and we will miss him very much. We thank you and the entire Katonah-Lewisboro community for your support. We are deeply touched.

    Heather and Alan Conway

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