Well before Bryan Cole and Shayne Jackson needed to show up to Infinite Energy Arena to prepare for Saturday’s game against the Rochester Knighthawks, the two players were already on Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field playing catch with Jacob Brown and his family.
Jacob, a sophomore at Brookwood High School who plays varsity football and lacrosse, tragically lost his mother Tiesha last fall to cancer the day after his first varsity football game. The football team told Patrick and Matt Klug, the founders of the non-profit November Smiles along with their sister Alicia, and the brothers immediately knew they had to help Jacob and his sisters – Leah and Mya – and father Keith.
“November Smiles is our non-profit organization that helps kids through the process of losing a parent or a loved one,” said Matt, who graduated from Brookwood in May 2018.
The Klugs lost their parents within a year of one another while Matt was still in high school, both in the month of November. They decided to take the outpouring of love and support they received from the community and use it to help others experiencing similar tragedies
“We focus on high school age and younger,” Patrick said. “A lot of times they feel like they’re on an island … We want to make sure they know that they’re not alone and there are people out there that can help them and help them get through it.”
When the Swarm heard about the Brown’s tragic loss, they reached out to the Klugs and got involved immediately, inviting the Browns down to the floor ahead of Saturday’s game to hang out with Cole and Jackson.
“It was a pretty good game for them to come see, overall a good night,” Jackson said. “Anything we can do to help take their mind off that part of their life for even a couple of minutes, we’re happy to do.”
They threw the ball around and took some shots on net with Jacob, and Mike Poulin came out for a bit to meet the family, too. The Browns also spent time with Miles and Lyle Thompson.
“I think that’s the guys we have on our team, whenever we have people and visitors into our room, a lot of the guys make sure they go out of their way to say hello and even just make their day a little bit,” Jackson said. “It just speaks volumes to the people we have on our team that are able to do that and go out of their way to do that.”
“It was awesome,” Matt said. “It was really cool because Jacob plays varsity football, but he loves lacrosse even more.”
Part of the mission at November Smiles is to not let events like this be a one-and-done thing, and Patrick and Matt work hard to stay in contact with every family they’ve helped.
“It’s not just, ‘Hey, sorry this happened,’ and they’re not going to hear from us again,” Patrick said. “We still talk to every family we’ve helped so far, and we’re just working on ways to improve that experience.”
The families they helped form an ever-growing support group for others who have experienced the same loss. Keith was asking the Klugs how they can help out with the next family that November Smiles reaches out to.
Cole and Jackson had a great time with the Browns and want to help out more with November Smiles. Their altruism is another sure sign of the high-character players on the Swarm.
“We have great, character people on our team,” Jackson concluded, “and I think that’s what’s helped in our past and hopefully in our future success.”
Fans interested in making donations to November Smiles can learn more at NovemberSmiles.org/Donate.