On Dec. 31, 2012, eight-year-old Mack Brady passed away unexpectedly. Brady was an avid fan of Penn State soccer. The Nittany Lion women's soccer team will host their first Mack Brady Night on Thursday (7 p.m.) when it takes on Purdue at Jeffrey Field. This story was originally published on Sept. 12 ahead of PSU men's game against California.
By Mike Esse, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Christian and Elizabeth Brady were driving back to State College on a wintery Central Pennsylvania night. They sat in the car together, husband and wife, thinking and brainstorming.
Christian Brady has brainstormed and developed ideas for most of his professional and academic career. He is a thinker and a researcher. This time, though, it was a little different.
Days prior to that car ride home; he was spending time with his wife and his son, Mack, during the holiday season after another successful semester as the Dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
Then, on Dec. 31, 2012, everything changed.
Mack, an aspiring goalkeeper and follower of the Penn State men's soccer team, had a high fever. Simply following normal protocol, his parents took him to the doctor and then just two days later a blood infection took the life of their son. Just like that.
That put the Bradys in their car to State College on that cold wintery night. Thinking. Brainstorming.
"We needed to find ways to remember Mack," Christian Brady said. "I immediately suggested that we should do something with Penn State men's soccer because Mack loved soccer and loved playing with his friends and also came to men's soccer games all the time."
Brady, familiar with the endowment and memorial scholarship process through his time raising money in various ways at Penn State, contacted men's soccer head coach Bob Warming just days after his son's death to discuss the idea.
Warming, with no hesitation, began to devise a plan to remember the child that was on the sidelines of Jeffrey Field a couple feet away from where he coached just a few months prior.
"At that time it was so early in the process of the grieving for the family I just wanted to do anything possible to help the Bradys," said Warming. "Anything that they thought would be helpful to them I wanted to do.
"Certainly it's a wonderful gift to the goalkeepers forever at Penn State and a remarkably generous series of contributions by people from all over the country including primarily the Penn State community. To me, it was more about what they wanted to do to honor Mack. It was more about what we can do to help this family."
This was just the beginning of the healing and remembering process for the Brady family. Little did they know, with the help of Warming, women's soccer head coach Erica Walsh and their teams, remembering Mack Brady would be widespread in the State College community just months later.
It started with the Mack Brady Memorial Men's Soccer Fund at Penn State, a scholarship and endowment fund. It was created in partnership with the Penn State men's soccer program to provide funding for scholarships, equipment and aid in other areas.
"I really wanted it to be a fund that the coach could use to build up his program," said Christian Brady. "They have already gotten new equipment so [goalkeeper coach] Bo [Oshoniyi] can use it with the goalkeepers to help them train.
"Frankly, the goal is to create the best collegiate goalkeeping program in the nation."
As the fund began to progress, perhaps the most significant moment came to be when a father of a player on the State College Celtics, the soccer team Mack played for, designed a patch to be worn on the jerseys of their team.
Brady brought the patch to Warming one day and Warming had an idea.
"He asked me if his goalkeepers could wear the patch," said Brady. "I said I thought it would be a great idea and before I could finish he said, 'forever.' I asked him why and he said 'I want Penn State goalkeepers to always wear this patch for Mack.'"
They will be doing just that. Forever.
Andrew Wolverton, Danny Sheerin, Micah Collins and Evan Finney will be the first group of goalkeepers to wear the patch. Wolverton, the starting goalie for the Nittany Lions felt honored to be able to start this tradition in the season opener against Radford on Aug. 30.
"It's a huge honor," said Wolverton. "It gives us a reason to play harder for and something to honor every time we go out there and play. It's a horrible tragedy for the Brady family, but it's a great honor for us and for them and I know it really means a lot to them."
Not only has the soccer program create the fund and wear the patch, they also helped Mack's teammates and other youth soccer players in the State College area at a camp this summer in Mack's honor.
"It helps gives us purpose," said Brady. "It helps us remember Mack in a positive way."
Now, the Bradys, the Penn State athletic department and community are set to continue to honor Mack on Friday against No. 5 California with the inaugural Mack Brady Night, proving the true colors of the school at which Christian Brady has spent over seven years working.
"There has been a lot of discussion about the culture and character of Penn State and Penn State athletics," said Brady. "[This] is the culture of Penn State: to support a community and an individual that is in loss and in need. It's a tremendous testimony to the character of these people who make up our Penn State community."
A New Normal
At first Christian Brady and his wife were unsure as to how exactly they would move on from the loss of their son. Now, they have thousands of people supporting them into this next stage of their life, a stage Brady called the "new normal."
What is the new normal for the Bradys? It is without Mack physically, but spiritually he is still very much alive.
"Our new normal is without Mack, but our new normal is now with Mack being known to thousands of more people than who would have ever known who he was," said Brady. "We might have gone to the game Friday night and Bob would have said 'hi' to Mack and Bo would have asked how keeping is going, but that would be it and we would just sit and watch the game.
"Now, hopefully there will be a couple thousand people on Friday night to come out and support Penn State players and tip the hat at Mack and recognize him."
Admission and parking is free on Friday and there will be a number of events for kids, an auction and other events giving all proceeds to the fund. A few thousand are expected as there is a whiteout and Twitter hashtag #MackTheJeff.
Even the simple things, like a Twitter hashtag or a whiteout, it all creates new ways for the Bradys to think of and remember Mack.
"Knowing this helps us find the new meaning and helps his memory live on in a very positive way," Brady said. "There's a lot more to it, but that's a start."
Perhaps the most perfect part to all of this; Mack had the dream of becoming a goaltender at Penn State and although it cannot physically happen, his dream will live on forever through the fund and the patch.
It was perfect imagery for Brady, Warming and Wolverton. In soccer, goalies have the team's back at all times. With the patch on the jerseys, Mack will have their backs, forever, while they live out his dream.
"I knew that the odds of Mack starting some day for Penn State and becoming the U.S. National goalkeeper, which was his dream, were pretty slim," Brady said. "He is doing that now, in a sense though. Some of these guys are going to be good enough to play pro and that means they are going to carry Mack's name with them."
The Bradys will never forget that car ride in last winter where they had to think about ways to honor their son that passed away just hours earlier.
Nevertheless, because of the fund, the patch, Friday's game and what will happen in the future, nobody will ever forget Mack Brady.
That is the new normal for Christian and Elizabeth Brady.