ROYERSFORD >> This season wasn’t the one Spring-Ford’s Quinn McKenna had envisioned.
A high ankle sprain and strained Achilles tendon suffered in Week 2 kept the Rams’ versatile tight end on and off the sideline throughout Spring-Ford’s run to clinch the No. 8 seed in the District 1 Class 6A playoffs, foiling his aspirations of increasing his stat totals and becoming more of a contributor to the already potent Rams’ offense.
But there he was Thursday afternoon, jogging out to the turf at Coach McNelly Stadium for a pregame walkthrough. His white sock blended in with the tape that rode well up to the mid calf. After a solid performance in last week’s regular season-ending 56-7 victory over Upper Perkiomen, McKenna is willing to give it another go as the Rams host No. 9 Central Bucks East Friday night.
Staying motivated amid trying times runs in the McKenna family.
It’s been nearly five years since McKenna lost his older brother, Conor, to a rare form of cancer, angiosacroma, a cancer of the inner lining of blood vessels that can occur in any area of the body but most commonly occurs in the skin, breast, liver, spleen, and deep tissue. He was 15.
Up until the last two years, his death was a subject no teammate, or even McKenna for that matter, wanted to go near. The wounds were too fresh to start prodding for answers to a question that maybe didn’t have one.
Yet through it all, one thing was always clear. His life left an indelible mark.
“I was in shock for a while,” McKenna said. “I just remembered being in denial for so long about not having him here anymore. It was really hard to go through but I think my family really came together during that time.
“It took me a while to accept his death, especially since I was young. I didn’t really know what was going on most of the time. I wasn’t really expecting it but now I’ve come to terms that everything happens for a reason. I’ve learned a lot from it, and as much as I’d like to have him here today, what he showed me has helped me in my life.”
Conor was a ballplayer. More importantly, he was a fighter, a model of inspiration. Diagnosed at the age of 13, Conor went through a litany of tests, procedures and treatments during a taxing 19-month battle — all to combat a growing cancer that wound up taking away partial use of his right arm due to a surgery on a mass on his upper right arm.
Admittedly, McKenna was “young and naive” about the ongoing battle. A fifth-grader when Conor was diagnosed, the toll of the disease and the setbacks were — and still are — a blur to Quinn.
“Honestly, I don’t remember anything where I heard one day that he had cancer,” McKenna said. “It was just him going through treatments. In between treatments he’d be doing well but then something would show up. I knew he was sick but not to the level of what it was.”
What stuck with McKenna was something he hasn’t forgotten.
“It was hard work,” he said. “He had the one goal of playing baseball and he did anything in his power to be able to do that.
“He really wanted to get back onto the field. In between treatments he’d be hitting baseballs in the backyard. He’d be playing in the Babe Ruth League right back there,” McKenna said as he pointed toward Ram Stadium. “That just showed me how much passion and courage he had for playing baseball and how willing he was to work hard to get back to playing it. When I got hurt in Week 2, I kept all of that in the back of my mind in trying to get ready for the Wilson game.”
McKenna never made it back for the Wilson double-overtime loss, but made his way back to the field in Week 4’s victory over Exeter before playing in full against Norristown and Metacton. After aggravating his injury in the Rams’ 28-14 loss to Perkiomen Valley, McKenna sat out the next two games before playing in the first half of the team’s 56-7 victory over Upper Perkiomen.
Now, as the Rams try to advance into the second round of the district playoffs, McKenna is ready to take the field with a motto he’s held all throughout his high school career:
“I just play my hardest every game. I dedicate every game I play to Conor and all the things he wasn’t able to do.”