Immediately after Perry High School’s baseball team was defeated by Scottsdale Chaparral in the state championship game last weekend, 17-year-old Wil Schommer declared victory.
Certain fans of the game might find this slightly unusual since Wil plays third base for Perry.
But they don’t know Wil. (Or baseball.)
“It was a great experience,” he said. “It was amazing being out there, not just for me, but for my family, for everyone who’s supported me over the years.”
In October 1997, I got a call from Wil’s dad, Paul, saying that he and Wil’s mother, Lisa, were staging a “celebration” for their then-4�-year-old son. Paul wondered if I might be interested in writing a newspaper article about it.
This was about a month after Wil had undergone seven hours of surgery to remove cancerous tumors that had invaded his torso and not long before the bone-marrow transplant and aggressive chemotherapy treatment he would receive for a deadly disease called neuroblastoma.
What struck me then about Wil’s parents was that Paul and his wife never once said (out loud, anyway) “Why us?” If anything, Paul talked about driving to the hospital after Wil’s cancer was diagnosed as Stage 4 and going over in his mind all of the scenarios that could be worse.
“I told myself that there are parents dealing with even more difficult situations,” he said, thinking back. “Imagine a child who is struck by a car and killed. Or one who drowns in a backyard pool. And even though they only gave Wil a 20 percent chance of making it, I tried to remember it could be worse.”
In 1997 I pretended to understand, but I thought Paul was crazy. My own son was just a year or so older than Wil. I couldn’t imagine dealing with such a horrifying diagnosis, let alone handling it with the Schommers’ grace, generosity and optimism. And I expected Wil to die.
But he didn’t.
Wil told me last week that he doesn’t remember much about the long hospital stays, the terrible treatments, the surgery and everything else that he went through, perhaps because his parents, while navigating the medical system, were determined to make his life as “normal” as possible. And when he finally got to the point where he could keep up with other kids his age, Wil was drawn to baseball.
“I love everything about it,” he said.
He was part of the Chandler National All-Stars who represented Arizona in the Little League Western Regional tournament a few years back. And while he’s not the biggest guy at 5 feet 8 inches, 155 pounds, he has developed into a quick, skilled infielder.
“He is in many ways a typical teenager,” his father said. “But he’s also wise and mature beyond his years because of what he’s been through.”
Wil scribbled an “R” on his baseball cap for the state semifinal game in honor of a boy who died recently of the same disease that almost killed him.
“For all the games he will never get to play,” Wil wrote on his Facebook page.
“I’ve met a lot of kids who have cancer, and their families,” Wil said. “I tell them about what I went through and let them know that good things can come out of it. That you can beat it.”
The chemotherapy he received as a child made it difficult for Wil’s adult teeth to take hold. He is in the process of receiving implants. He takes it in stride. In the fall he’ll enroll at Austin College in Texas, where he’ll play on the baseball team. After earning a degree, he wants to teach and coach baseball. To stay in the game.
It’s all any of us want, really. To stay as long as we can in whatever game we choose in life to play.
“We’ve learned a lot through what happened to Wil,” Paul Schommer said. “A big part of that is to be engaged and optimistic every day.”
That’s how a high-school kid can declare victory after his team gets beat 10-3 in the state final.
It’s what former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Chuck Tanner meant when he said, “The greatest feeling in the world is to win a major-league baseball game. The second greatest feeling in the world is to lose a major-league game.”