The Other Thanksgiving Football Game

Everybody played on Nick’s Team last Thursday in a flag football game that raised money for Beacon Falls resident Nick Lucas (referee shirt), who has leukemia.

Everybody played on Nick’s Team last Thursday in a flag football game that raised money for Beacon Falls resident Nick Lucas (referee shirt), who has leukemia.

BEACON FALLS — Thanksgiving football is one of those traditions that binds families together through generations. Like every year, there were plenty of games to choose from Wednesday night and Thursday morning—Woodland-Seymour, Naugatuck-Ansonia, Holy Cross-Wolcott, and dozens more. But this year, there was one, more family-oriented Thanksgiving game, but this tilt featured only one team—Team Nick.

Team Nick, a group of family and friends of 11-year-old Beacon Falls resident Nicholas Lucas, met at the Beacon Falls Recreation Complex before firing up the oven on Turkey Day for a friendly game of flag football. The event served not only as a fun way to kick off Thanksgiving but also as a fundraiser for Nick, who is suffering from leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant.

Nick was taken to the hospital Sept. 14 by his mother for what they thought was a stomach flu, but the illness was more serious than expected. At the Yale Children’s Hospital, Nick tested positive for two types of leukemia: acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). In order to cure the CML leukemia, Nick needs a bone marrow transplant.

“Hearing the news was the hardest things we have ever had to hear, but telling Nicholas was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” Nick’s mother said. “He is such a brave little guy. He told us he was not only going to be strong, but he was going to be ‘Army strong.’ That is our motto as a family. We have shown how strong we are.”

Soon after learning of Nick’s leukemia, the family began holding benefit dinners and bone marrow drives. So far, there have been three bone drives—at the Bridgeport Portuguese Club, the Palm Coast Florida Portuguese Club, and Naugatuck Savings Bank. In total, almost 600 people have tested and registered.

“We cannot thank everyone enough, from the people attending [the dinners and drives] to the volunteers to the benefit organizers,” Nick’s mother said. “Thank you.”

At one of the bone marrow drives, family friend Ana Felix had made black “Team Nick” T-shirts with the family motto, “Army Strong,” on the back. Without knowing of Felix’s shirts, Nick’s family from southern Connecticut had printed orange “Team Nick” shirts.

“That’s how this football game started,” Felix said. “Even though we’re in competition, we’re all essentially on Team Nick.”

About 50 of Nick’s family and friends met on a chilly Thanksgiving morning to square off in the friendly flag football game. The two sides sported their black and orange T-shirts, while Nick donned a referee jersey and officiated the contest.

As of yet, Nick has not found a match at any of the three bone marrow drives. The next drive is Sunday, Dec. 6 at the Waterbury Portuguese Club from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Anybody between the ages of 18 and 60 who meets the health guidelines can join the registry by simply completing a consent form and doing a cheek cell swab. Felix said the drive is not just for Nick but also for others in need of a donor.

“This is not only to help Nick find a match,” she said, “but also to help all the others waiting for one as well. … There are so many children suffering with this illness.”

If Nick does find a donor, he and his family will be heading to the Dana Farber Cancer center in Boston to perform the transplant.

“We could not have gotten through what we are going through without the support of our families and friends,” Nick’s mother said. “Please keep the prayers coming. We need them, and they have shown they work.”