“Live more. Laugh more. Love more.”
That was the mantra of Tucker Williams, an 8-year-old boy who had a passion for lacrosse that rivaled his father’s.
Shawn Williams, the NLL Hall of Famer, was in the midst of his second stint with the Bandits organization in 2013-2014 when he started to question why his son was having difficulty breathing at night.
Initially, the Williams family thought that Tucker had to get his tonsils removed like most kids his age. A checkup at SickKids, a hospital in Toronto, changed all of that as Shawn heard the dreadful words that no parent wants to hear: “Your child has cancer.”
Doctors diagnosed Tucker with Stage 3 Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a rapidly growing disease that is the most common type of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma found in children.
“We actually found out on a practice night and as a family decided that we weren’t going to allow the diagnosis to negatively disrupt our lives,” Williams said. “So I decided to go to practice even though it was hard to drive away from my family for a few hours during a time like that.”
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When Williams arrived at the facility, he immediately informed the coaching staff and told his teammates in the locker room about the battle Tucker would soon be starting. Tucker was always around the team with his older siblings Dyson and Dylana.
“I’ll never forget Shawn coming into the locker room on that day, and it brought tears to everyone in the locker room, hearing what was going on,” Bandits forward Dhane Smith, who was in his second year with the organization at the time, said. “It’s crazy just to think about them being in the locker rooms, on the floor, or even in the hotel lobby just playing lacrosse and having fun – for all that to now be in jeopardy.”
“I remember Shawn talking and sitting beside him in the locker room. I’ll never forget the day he told us that Tucker was sick,” Bandits captain Steve Priolo said. “It created so many different emotions that makes you realize that you’re playing for something bigger than the game of lacrosse.”
After that practice, the players wanted to raise money to help the Williams family during Tucker’s treatment. Scott Loffler, the team’s director of lacrosse operations, spearheaded the effort.
“If anyone knows the Williams family, they’re probably one of the nicest most genuine families you could ever meet,” Loffler said.
In an effort to cover expenses that the Williams family’s insurance wouldn’t cover such as travel costs, hotel stays, and meals, team personnel designed the first rendition of the Bandits’ “Braver Than Brave” jerseys.
The special jerseys were worn against the Calgary Roughnecks on April 5, 2014 and auctioned off after the game, with all of the proceeds going to the Williams family.
“So many different emotions. The support from Banditland was tremendous, and then the love and support for your teammates and coaches,” Shawn Williams said. “That’s what life’s all about.”
Tucker was in attendance for the inaugural event and told his family how he wanted to “help other kids in my situation.”
Following Tucker’s passing on December 17, 2014, it was an easy decision to continue the event in his honor to help other families that are enduring with the struggles that pediatric cancer brings.
Williams retired and joined the Bandits coaching staff the next season. His children started to play a role in Tucker Out Lymphoma Night each season. Dyson began designing the Bandits’ custom jerseys, and Dylana would sing the Canadian national anthem.
In 2019, the Bandits hosted the night when the Colorado Mammoth and the event took another great step forward. Williams was in his first season as an assistant coach for Colorado, and both teams wore special jerseys that night, which were then auctioned off along with other items.
Tucker Out Lymphoma Night has raised over $150,000 for pediatric cancer care in Tucker’s honor since that first night. Initiatives that have benefited include the PUNT Foundation, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center’s pediatric cancer unit, and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, where Tucker received his treatments.
Now heading into the event’s eighth year of existence, Tucker Out Lymphoma Night is a noteworthy event for players and fans across the lacrosse community. This season’s game will take place on January 8 when Buffalo hosts Toronto.
“It’s just a testament to what Shawn and the Williams family mean to the sport of lacrosse and what they meant to the Bandits organization,” Priolo said. “At the beginning, there was a lot of shock and sadness, but now it’s grown to a place of, ‘How can we make this into something that helps as many kids as possible?’”
Dyson Williams is entering his junior season at Duke University, following in his father’s footsteps with 49 goals in 23 career games for the Blue Devils. Yet again, Dyson has again designed the jerseys for this year’s game.
Along with the jerseys going up for auction, the ball for every goal will be auctioned off and signed by the goal scorer.
A lacrosse ball surprise will also be available this year. Every player on the Bandits roster has signed 500 balls, and for $10, you can purchase a mystery ball. If you want a different player, balls can be traded in for an additional $5 donation with all proceeds going toward pediatric cancer care.
For players like Smith that have seen Dyson grow up in front of their very eyes, it’s a rewarding feeling to see it all come full circle.
“Every year, I try out for Team Canada and this past year, Dyson was also trying out for the team, which was super weird,” he said. “It’s so weird because I never thought I would play with him… it was a super special moment.”
Dylana, who will be playing her first year of colligate lacrosse at the University of Pittsburgh, will once again sing “O Canada” pregame on January 8. Shawn Williams will also be in attendance to address the crowd before the game begins.
This week’s game will be the Bandits’ first match in 28 days. They last played on December 11, a 12-8 win at Rochester.
Toronto looks to hand the 2-0 Bandits their first loss of the season. The Rock come in with a 2-1 record after defeating the Philadelphia Wings 12-9 on December 18.
With many new additions to this year’s team, Smith said he can’t wait to share Tucker’s story with them because of how much it means to everyone associated with the Bandits.
“I can tell you one thing, if we lose that game, it’s probably the hardest loss that the team takes outside of the last game of the season,” Loffler said.
The Williams family shared how honored and thankful they are to the organization and Banditland for the continuous support to their cause that continues Tucker’s legacy.
“We had the vision of this event from the get-go during Tucker’s fight, but after he passed, it was up to us to carry on his legacy,” Shawn Williams said. “The legacy of how he taught us every day how to live more, laugh more, love more, and always be braver than brave.”