In mid-March 2008, a couple dozen boys were trying out for the Staples golf team. The wind chill was 20 degrees, and coach Tom Owen told them that if they wished, they could go inside. He would not hold it against them.
A 9th grader shook uncontrollably from the cold. But he refused to quit.
“I want to finish,” Andrew Accardi told Owen.
Despite his heart, his scores were not good enough to make the very talented squad. But Owen loved Andrew’s attitude, and asked him to be the team manager.
Andrew battled more than wind and cold that day. Since age 5 — nearly 10 years earlier — he’d been fighting neuroblastoma, a brutal childhood cancer.
“Andrew never wanted sympathy or pity,” Owen says. “He never let on how much he was suffering. He just wanted a normal high school life.”
His golf teammates treated him exactly that way. They befriended him, joked with him, teased him.
The next year — as a sophomore — Andrew made the team. Despite frequent trips to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, he was a Staples golfer for the rest of high school.
He, Owen, and many friends and family members worked together on fundraisers for the hospital, to aid in neuroblastoma research. Over 4 years, “Andrew’s Army” raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.
After graduating in 2011, Andrew attended Villanova University, as a finance and marketing major. Just as at Staples, he quickly gained many friends and admirers.
This morning, Andrew lost his 15-year fight. He was 20 years old.
“I respect him greatly, for everything he did,” Owen says with emotion. “He inspired so many people. I hope kids who knew him learn never to take for granted what they have.”
Staples principal John Dodig agrees.
“I remember this small boy with a knit cap on. Sometimes he was here, and for weeks he was not. Each time he reappeared, students and adults welcomed him back. He walked around the building with a smile on his face.
“His biggest goal at that point in his life was to walk across the stage at graduation. Every teacher, administrator, and support person was determined to help him accomplish his goal.”
Andrew did walk across the stage. Dodig shook his hand. James Farnen, his assistant principal for 4 years, gave him a huge hug.
Andrew Felman — the current Staples golf captain — was a freshman when Andrew Accardi was a senior. When he heard the news this morning, the captain told Owen he wants the team to wear Andrew’s initials on their golf shirts this year.
What a great tribute. It will keep Andrew Accardi so close to their hearts.