“Even though we lost, we won today because of you,” Providence head coach Ed Cooley said, hoisting Tyler Peryea, a 6-year-old boy, in his arms.
“Can I get a hug?”, Cooley asked.
“I’ve been looking for you everywhere,” Peryea interjected just before Cooley burst into the media room with his million-dollar smile. As his father took in the moment, reflecting on each memory the two shared on that day, he offered a smile too.
Sitting in lower-level seats at The Dunk in Providence, RI, Tyler was able forget. Even if it was merely for a second.
He was diagnosed with HLH (hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis), a life-threatening illness, when he was 1 ½ years old. It impacts one’s immune system, not attacking viruses or bacteria when a normal healthy person would. Placing him in the intensive care unit for about six weeks, he stayed in Hasbro Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island for six months total.
“Seeing a young man like this [gives] perspective on life,” Cooley voiced to start off the press conference. “It’s not the end of the world because we lost a basketball game, or a couple,” he went on to say, speaking about the game philosophically. “That’s what life is all about, it’s a journey: you teach, you encourage, you motivate, and little by little you continue to improve.”
Brad Peryea, Tyler’s father, stayed with his other son, who was 4 weeks old at the time, while his wife traveled to Cincinnati, so he could receive a bone marrow transplant. This was due to him having a hereditary form of the ailment.
His father mentioned that despite having been to the arena with Tyler a few times, this particular one was a “real treat.” During a break, the referee let him dribble the basketball on the court, one of the many special experiences he had in the day.
“It kinda turned things around a little bit after that. It was about 10 minutes into the second half,” Brad joked.
That’s when Providence made a run. Stagnation in the first turned into a comeback that ended swiftly. Villanova looked like they were in the midst of another monstrous win, yet minutes later, Providence was back. It didn’t last long, but it sure was exciting for Brad, Tyler and the sell-out crowd.
“By the way, this is the best kid in the world,” Cooley finished the conference by saying as applauses and cheers filled the spacious room.
Providence Friars fan Tom Stone partnered A Wish Come True with the Providence men’s basketball team in 2013. Brad credits Stone for their experience on Saturday. “This guy, he’s been incredible,” Brad said, looking him in the eyes.
“Teaming up with A Wish Come True was a great honor as we got to meet amazing young children who put a smile on all of our faces,” Providence AD Steve Napolillo stated. “We cannot thank Tom (Stone) enough for his support and generosity in making this program possible. He has created memories and smiles for a lifetime.”
Connecting with the Tomorrow Fund, an affiliate of the hospital, the family became in contact with Mr. Stone. He orchestrated it all: inviting them to the game, setting them up with fantastic tickets on the floor, allowing Tyler to dribble on the court, arranging the meet and greet with the head coach, allowing them to hang out in the locker room, and of course giving him the chance to sit with Cooley.
“The work that they do, the opportunities that they provide to these kids is just unbelievable. It’s second to none,” Brad mentioned.
Kaden Erickson, a middle school student in Jonesboro, Arkansas, suffered from leukemia. He was featured in 60 Minutes in October of 2015.
“Did it make you forget for a while that you were sick?”, Bill Whitaker of 60 Minutes wondered. Kaden responded by stating, “Yes. It made me feel a little bit normal, more normal than I’ve been for a while.”
He tragically passed away following the interview, but for a second, like Tyler he was able to forget. Forget about the pain and the struggle, and be a kid, with all of its innocence. It was the memory, Tyler’s with Ed Cooley and Kaden’s adventures in Australia, which will live on.
“The kids get a break too,” Brad stressed. “It’s a lot of stress for them, that’s what no one thinks about.”
Brad wanted us to know that Tyler is cured, and while he has some problems with his blood at the moment, in his words, ”Overall, he’s a pretty healthy kid.”
“And just for [Cooley] to take time out, especially after a loss, I mean, that just speaks volumes to his character. I think, after a difficult loss like this he would take time out just to meet with him and you know, brighten up his day.”
Others, ranging from fans to media members, have addressed the true colors of Coach Cooley’s character as well.
“Ed Cooley has an infectious personality, a driving spirit to work hard and win, and is one of the warmest people you’ll meet,” ESPN’s Andy Katz said. “You can scour the country and find plenty of hometown success stories of coaches coming back to their alma maters or places where they grew up. But there will be few that can match the authenticity of Cooley and Providence.”
While the dad touched on the unexpectedness of the day, primarily Cooley bringing him to the podium, Tyler spoke in a Super Bowl-esque “I’m going to Disney World” manner.
“We’re going to Dave and Busters!” he pronounced.
“We’ve seen the other side too,” Brad acknowledged. “When we were out in Cincinnati, we saw a lot of kids going through the treatment that he went through and they didn’t make it. They didn’t pull through.”
It’ll always be more than a game.