By Matt Smith, Delaware County Daily Times
Sunday, September 6, 2015
MARPLE – Nearly one year had passed since Michael Shelly was honored at Marple Newtown High’s Harry R. Harvey Field.
The Tigers were hosting Harriton in a Central League contest Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. At the time, the freshman Shelly wanted nothing more than to be in uniform, standing on the home sideline and supporting his teammates. Instead, Shelly was bound to a wheelchair. The hundreds of fans and students in attendance gave Shelly a raucous ovation 30 minutes before the game. Shelly, with his family by his side, raised his hand to acknowledge his adoring fans.
In August 2014, days before the start of his first high school training camp, Shelly received the diagnosis: non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Cancer.
Fast forward to Sept. 4, 2015, opening night of the football season. Marple Newtown at Cardinal O’Hara.
There was Shelly in uniform, ready for the chance to hit the field and lend a hand on offense, defense or special teams. Shelly had overcome the odds and put the stamp on his victory over this terrible disease.
Shelly dressed. And Shelly played.
With the Tigers on their way to a lopsided win, Shelly experienced one of the happiest moments of his life. He hustled onto the field in the fourth quarter and lined up on defense. The ball was snapped and Shelly, a sophomore defensive lineman, was officially a high school football player.
It was a ride he will never forget.
“Not being able to play for a year, and football being my favorite thing to do, the last year was pretty terrible,” Shelly said Friday night. “But being out here tonight, being able to play out here with all of my best friends, it’s the best feeling ever.”
As Shelly spoke those words, senior captain Abel Hoff stood beside him like a brother in arms. Marple Newtown’s All-Delco receiver wanted Shelly to know that his teammates love him. Hoff patted Shelly on the back and stood next to him as he finished the post-game interview.
Hoff was there for emotional support as Shelly started to choke up, ever so briefly, as he put his wave of emotions into sentences.
“It’s was weird coming back to camp after missing it last year, not being able to play and going through everything,” Shelly said. “I was ready to come back and I found myself really missing it. You don’t realize how amazing it is to come out here and be able to play until you can’t play anymore. It was an amazing feeling.”
Shelly’s impact on the team will not be measured by pancake blocks or quarterback sacks or forced fumbles. He’s a walking image of strength and perseverance. His outlook on life and the fight he put in to defeat cancer is an inspiration to his coaches and teammates.
“Mike is a great kid who comes from a great family,” Marple Newtown head coach Chris Gicking said. “I think having him back now, it does so much for the team. When the kids think they’re tired and they look over and see Mike Shelly sweating and battling, and you’re the other kids … you’re not that tired anymore. You put it in that perspective. Mike just beat cancer and he’s not complaining, so you shouldn’t be complaining, either.”
Through it all, Shelly has never made excuses. When he was cleared by doctors and resumed football activities in May, Shelly shifted his focus to making the varsity squad. He considered it another challenge.
“Once I was cleared, I played and I practiced and I worked as much as I could,” he said. “I started right from there. I wanted to do the best that I could.”
#ShellyStrong trended at Marple Newtown last season on signs, T-shirts and Twitter. But unlike most trends that tend to run out of steam, it still resonates one year later.
#ShellyStrong is stronger than ever.
“It’s great to see him out there and it’s an amazing story,” Gicking said.
Michael Shelly is a winner, but that doesn’t mean he’ll ever feel the urge to stop fighting.
“I work to try and get on the field any way I can,” he said. “Whenever they call my name, I’ll be ready to play.”