Gary Broering, a Graves Golf family member, lost his son to Leukemia in 1993. This blog is a short story about his son, Joel, and a message for this holiday season to spend as much time as we can with those we love.
The following account isn’t about state championships, All-Ohio accolades, or lucrative college careers. It is about a sometimes larger-than-life kid whose example personified life it isn’t always about the destination, but more about the journey… As I lazily stomped from the saturated turf at Lima Shawnee High School on that dreary and blustery November Friday night in 1993, the scoreboard that just went dark was another painful reminder that I had played in my last high school football game. For a senior in high school, that feeling was an internal Armageddon. While my final muddy steps across the all-weather track grew heavier, I noticed my classmate, Joel Broering, standing awkwardly in the aisle yelling in our direction as we exited the field. Through the years, Joel’s voice was always booming, and this particular time it was difficult to ignore.While I was overly-busy pitying myself after the loss, Joel stood there alone on a pair of crutches, unbeknownst to any of us that he was only a few weeks away from his own funeral.
Growing up, Joel’s head housed one of the keenest sports-minds I had ever known in all of my ten or eleven years of childhood and he wasn’t afraid to let you know. Without the convenience of up-to-minute tweets and text messages, Joel had a knack for reciting the latest scores, injury reports, and roster moves of seemingly every team from Major League Baseball to the USFL, and his bedroom was decked in memorabilia that made even the most humble kids ooze with envy.
Anytime there was a pickup game to be played – whether it was baseball behind Greg Balster’s house on Walnut Street, basketball on the driveway in front of my parent’s garage, or wall-to-wall football in Doug Speck’s living room, there was little doubt that Joel would make an appearance. While most of the time he was welcome, it all depended on whether he was in the mood to argue when things didn’t go in his favor. The funny thing about Joel was how he would rather run through a lion’s cage in a meat suit than lose a game, which was interesting because as smart as he was when it came to sports, he wasn’t all that talented of an athlete. His participation worked out pretty well for me because at 5-5 and 112.75 pounds, he was one of the few kids other than the girls at that age that I had a chance at beating.
Once high school seemingly slammed into us from out of the blue, Joel’s attention faded from football and baseball, and leaned more toward golf and girls. This concept is another fascinating tidbit because while he absolutely excelled at golf, his game toward the girls was in the same relative ballpark as the ones we played in Greg Balster’s backyard, my driveway, or Doug Speck’s living room. One afternoon in 1991, I popped into the downstairs restroom at St. Henry High School and Joel was slouched on the floor in tears. Abiding by the certain code forbidding boys our age asking other boys the same age what was wrong, I headed back to class. A few days later the news broke – Joel had been diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia.
Suddenly, rather than sports, cars, girls, and school dances, Joel’s spare time was filled with coming to grips with chemotherapy, hair loss, countless medicines, and weight fluctuation – experiences no teenager should ever have to burden. Following a nearly-immediate remission, the reigning MVP on St. Henry’s golf team relapsed about a year later. Joel submitted to a bone marrow transplant in early 1993, and for a few months the cancer went back into remission. For a moment, Joel evolved back into the kid we all knew – an energetic ball of, well – Joel.
His progress didn’t last long enough. That summer, Joel was granted a wish by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and he elected to hang out with his favorite professional golfer – Payne Stewart. For the 1993 Skins Game in Palm Desert, there sat Joel on national television resembling a miniature Stewart as he was decked out in knickers and a tam-style headpiece. After winning the third Skins game in three tries, Stewart presented the trophy to Joel. He returned home and in early December a group of us visited Joel, who was bed-ridden to his living room. To lay there and joke with his friends, only to witness us leave and return to our ‘normal’ teenage lives, had to be excruciating for him and his family, but not once did Joel seem to feel sorry for himself. As we left, I had an unsettling feeling that it was going to be the last time we spoke with our buddy. Unfortunately I was right.
Eighteen years ago this week, we all paid our final respects to our classmate. Joel would be 36 years old in a couple of months. It’s difficult to predict whether he would be married, have kids, or still live in the area, but I think we are all pretty certain that he would be making a living either as a sports writer, broadcaster, coach, or maybe even a defense attorney. There weren’t many people who didn’t know Joel. Whether you engaged in nonstop debates with him or just rolled your eyes when he demanded he was right, the undeniable truth is that on December 11, 1993, St. Henry and the Class of 1994 in particular, lost a good kid at much too young of an age. A generation later, as real life has morphed us from careless high schoolers to warriors fighting a daily barrage of mortgages, deadlines, disciplining kids, and every other curveball imaginable, it is hard not to drift back to the words my cancer-ridden friend hollered from the bleachers that night in Lima as we limped from the field – “Get your heads up guys, life is too short to get this upset!”
Joel Broering, February 13, 1976 – December 11, 1993
Merry Christmas to all. Thanks for sharing this with us Gary.