By CHRIS MARKHAM
Hundreds gathered at Barnesfield Park in King George, Virginia on Monday to celebrate the life of 22- year-old Wesley Berry, who passed away on Thursday, April 13 after a 10-year battle with brain cancer, the same number he wore on the baseball field. Country music filled the air as loved ones gathered on the infield of the baseball field to honor their inspirational figure and honorary Eagle.
In 2014, Wesley was adopted into the University of Mary Washington athletic department through the Friends of Jaclyn, a foundation that pairs those with pediatric brain tumors with college sports teams to grow a bond with. UMW became the first school to adopt through the entire athletic department after 2015 graduate Tyler Carey began their relationship.
Wesley’s love of sports shined through his battle with cancer and at his memorial. During the Berry’s partnership with UMW, ‘Win 4 Wesley’ games were played in honor of his fight. At his memorial, attendees were encouraged to wear their favorite sports jerseys, just as Wesley did many times in his life. Sports jerseys of Wesley’s favorite teams and players hung behind home base, where a small memorial stood for Wesley.
Attending the memorial were representatives of many UMW teams as well as athletic coaches and administrators. Of those who attended was director of athletic development at UMW Phillip Pierce, who worked hand-in- hand with the Berry family over the past three years to develop the two’s relationship.
A teary-eyed Pierce put on a Yankees jersey in honor of Wesley’s favorite team, a difficult task for the self-proclaimed Red Sox fanatic.
“I will never be able to express how blessed our Eagle family has been over the past three years to have Wesley on our team,” Pierce said in front of the crowd. “When I think of living a powerful life, I think of [Wesley’s] relentless strength and unwavering faith, and for that, I am grateful. UMW athletics will forever be grateful.”
Also speaking from UMW was the young man who started it all, 2015 graduate Tyler Carey, who was a member of UMW’s tennis team during his four years. Carey got involved with Friends of Jaclyn during his junior year and began the initiative of making Wesley a part of the UMW Athletics family. Standing at home base with Carey were two more UMW tennis players who have headed the “Win 4 Wesley” initiative at UMW, Shelby Harris ’16 and junior Kait Brogan.
“One of the special traits Wesley had was his ability to bring people together. That is a very rare trait that I believe only a few people are blessed with,” Carey said at the podium. “He gave Mary Washington athletes something more to fight for and reminded us how lucky we were to play the sports we love.”
The memorial began with a ceremonial first pitch, delivered by Wesley’s brother Drew and caught by UMW baseball player and King George native Tyler Truslow. Drew currently plays baseball at Bridgewater College and the two teams played each other on Thursday, April 13, the day Wesley passed away. The game was won by the Eagles of UMW after a go-ahead RBI by Truslow, a friend of Wesley.
Referred to multiple times by speakers at the memorial, including Pierce, was one common bible verse, from Isaiah 40:31 which states, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Pierce cited a conversation with Wesley’s father, where he said “it must be a God thing, that Wesley ‘wins’ on the same day the Bridgewater Eagles play the Mary Washington Eagles.”
When Wesley wasn’t watching or playing baseball, he was showing his animals at 4-H competitions or learning more about John Deere tractors. Even during treatments, Wesley maintained his strong attitude and competitive spirit.
“I believe there are only a few people that come along in your lifetime that truly have an astounding impact on your life,” Carey said to the crowd. “He made me never want to give up or complain. He made me a better person and for that, I’m eternally grateful.”
Wesley’s visits to UMW were limited due to obvious health complications, but his impact was felt through the entire UMW athletic department. Over the course of three years, all UMW sports teams hosted their own “Win 4 Wesley” games in which signs were posted throughout the playing venue and messages were spread through social media to raise awareness for their honorary teammate.
In Pierce’s speech, he notes that the same year Wesley was made a UMW Eagle, ESPN personality Stuart Scott passed away after his own battle with cancer. Scott famously said at the ESPYs before his death that “When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.” Pierce followed that by saying “I think we can all agree…Wesley ‘won’ every day of his 10-year fight with cancer.”