By DILLON FRIDAY
NEWTOWN SQUARE — Michael Shelly slowly made his way down the ramp leading into Harry R. Harvey field at Marple Newtown Friday night. His father followed him, pushing a wheelchair behind. As soon as the younger Shelly emerged on the track surrounding the turf, the Marple student section, packed some 30 minutes prior to kickoff, rose in unison and gave the guest of honor a raucous cheer.
A “Hootie!’ chant went up, in reference to Shelly’s nickname. The would-be Marple freshman raised his hand to acknowledge the cheer, before he settled in a chair on a sideline.
This was the most he’s walked since he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphona four and a half weeks ago.
But cancer wasn’t on Shelly’s mind as he watched his teammates warmup.
“He’s here for the football,’ Mike Shelly, Sr. explained, laughing. And his Tigers obliged, putting on an offensive show in a 59-35 win over Harriton
Shelly was making strides all summer to prepare himself to jump into the Tigers system. One practice, though, he felt ill enough to go to the hospital. The news was grim.
“The whole summer I was practicing every day,’ said Shelly. “After all the hard work, it was disappointing.’
Shelly soon joined the Tigers in a pregame huddle.
“I was a little starstruck,’ he said. “I told them to get the win.’
“We all love football,’ said first-year Marple coach Chris Gicking, who sported the same orange, “#ShellyStrong’ t-shirt that nearly all in attendance donned. Harriton’s entire coaching staff wore them too. Rams head coach J. Justin Mellor even cut a check for Shelly’s family.
“Shelly is so much bigger than football,’ Gicking said. “He comes from a great family, he’s a great kid. You’ve seen the community support tonight. It shows what Marple is all about.’
Adrian Sapnas continued his torrid start to the season, running for 228 yards and four touchdowns.
“I was really good friends with [Shelly’s] older brother. We hung out every day so I knew Mike well,’ Sapnas said. “For us to come out and get the win, was really special.’
The Tigers put on a show in the process. Every aspect of the offense clicked, from Sapnas on the ground, to Marcus Weathers through the air, to even George Lambritsios who went 8-for-8 on extra points and kicked a 33-yard field goal. Weathers finished with 226 yards and two touchdowns on 9-for-12 passing.
“We really wanted to make a statement tonight. We know what this program’s been through, so we wanted to show this was a new Marple,’ Weathers said. “And we wanted to win for Mike. The whole school was bumping all week.’
Weathers’ first pass of the second half went for a 50-yard score to Abel Hoff. Hoff caught seven balls for 158 yards. He also scored on a nine-yard swing pass and returned a punt 65 yards for a score after his coaches yelled for him to fair catch the ball.
“I couldn’t hear them from the field,’ Hoff said. “I just saw daylight and made a move.’
Marple (2-1, 1-0 Central) led 31-14 at half and were never really threatened by Harriton (0-3, 0-1 Central) in the second half. Although, neither team stopped scoring. Quarterback Patrick Stewart threw for 322 yards and three touchdowns for the Rams. Eddie Byrd III caught two of them and added two scores on the ground.
But this night was for Marple, and for one of its ailing sons.
“From the beginning, there was so much support. There’s a 5k being held, another big event at the Ardmore Music Hall at the end of the month to benefit him,’ said Mike Shelly, Sr. “He’s getting constant tweets and support over Instagram.’
Shelly, Sr. called his son’s prognosis very good. He’ll go through ten months of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, that will mean no school, and no athletics for the three-sport athlete. His father, though, us undeterred.
“He’s going to beat this thing. He’s never complained once,’ Shelly, Sr. said. “He has so many friends, and so many people supporting him. He’s the mayor of Marple.’