Dance music blared from the sound system, soccer balls flew through the air and children bounced around on the artificial turf at Holuba Hall last Sunday evening as the Penn State community paid tribute to Mack Brady, an 8 year old who loved soccer.
Mack's dream was to play keeper for the Nittany Lions and then become a goalkeeper for the U.S. National team. However, his dreams were cut short when he died suddenly from a bacterial infection on New Year's Eve.
To honor Mack, a soccer clinic was held on Penn State's campus. Approximately 125 children took part in the clinic, which featured 32 Penn State men's and women's soccer players. The Penn State coaching staff also took part, as well as representatives from the MLS.
“It's just so humbling and we're just thrilled that everyone is here,” said Elizabeth Brady, Mack's mother. “Mack would absolutely love it. It's just great.”
The clinic was held free of charge, but participants could make a monetary donation, which were directed to a scholarship being established in Mack's honor. The scholarship will benefit a player on the men's soccer team.
Mack's father, Christian, is the Dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State. He said that the Mack Brady Scholarship is going to be a reality soon.
“As of 2 p.m. Friday, we were over $30,000 and it's $50,000 to endow the scholarship. We are in awe of the support from the community — the Penn State community, our church community and the soccer community. We've had people from around the world offering their support. It's pretty overwhelming,” he said.
Todd Hoffard, the goalkeeper coach for the New York Red Bulls, came to the clinic. As a native of Lancaster, he always felt a connection to the Nittany Lions, even though he didn't go to school at Penn State.
“I grew up bleeding blue and white and I've got a lot of friends who played here. I wanted to come out. This is quite the event,” Hoffard said.
After speaking with Mack's father, Hoffard said that he wanted to help in any way that he could. At the clinic, he worked with several keepers, the position that Mack loved to play.
“Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of meeting Mack. As a fellow goalkeeper, he's part of our union. As goalkeepers we always joke and say 'we all stick together,'” Hoffard said with a smile. “I first heard about the story through a Penn State alum … I have an eight-year-old son, so the story really hit home for me. I felt like I needed to be a part of this.”
Mack's teammates enjoyed a special clinic with the Penn State players before the doors were opened to the soccer community. Players from Centre Soccer Association, Bellefonte Soccer Association, Penn United and Altoona Youth Soccer Association took part in the clinic — just to name a few.
Traci Thomas of Boalsburg brought her daughter, who once played with Mack, to the event.
“She's older — she's almost 12 — but she had goalkeeper training with Mack. We just wanted to come out and support the family. We've known them for awhile, so it was really important that we be here,” Thomas said.
After Penn State men's soccer coach Bob Warming greeted those taking part in the clinic, the children broke off into groups of four and had a chance to work with members of the men's and women's squads. There were dribbling and kicking drills mixed in with some fun games as well as three-on-three contests.
Warming was thrilled that the clinic was taking place.
“It's a honor for us to do this. Part of the beauty of our sport is developing these relationships that last forever,” Warming said. “Everyone is laughing and smiling and that's what sports should be about. This is just a great way to honor Mack and his family.”
Like Warming, Penn State women's soccer coach Erica Walsh was pleased to be a part of the clinic.
“This is the least that we could do. Soccer is great vehicle to bring people together, in the best of times, in the worst of times,” Walsh said. “Mack was a great supporter of our program. He was always smiling, a great goalkeeper of the future. We're honored to be a part of Mack's big night here.”
As the night wore on, one thing was clear — Mack touched many people's lives.
Danny Orton, head coach of the State College Area High School boys' soccer team and president and director of soccer operations for Penn United Soccer Academy, worked closely with Mack.
“It's a terrible thing for the Brady family, but what's come out of it is this huge soccer community wave of love and support,” Orton said. “This is a great tribute to Mack and his family. Mack was going to be our keeper for our U-9 boys' team. He was great, he was phenomenal. He was special.”
At the end of the clinic, the children lined up to get autographs from the Penn State players. Following the autograph session, balls and cones were collected and players exited Holuba Hall. Although the clinic had come to a close, it was clear that Mack's memory would live on.
“I have a feeling that we'll be working with Penn State in the future to do more clinics,” Christian Brady said. “This has been a humbling experience and we're thankful that Mack's name will live on.”
Donations to the Mack Brady Scholarship may be made online at http://givenow.psu.edu or by sending a check, payable to Penn State with “In Memory of Mack Brady” in the memo line to: Penn State University, One Old Main, University Park, Pa. 16802.