43 Brothers for the Coach's Son - by Jerry Price

As bad as it was getting, and how clear the ultimate outcome was, Chris Bates still did not let on the severity of the situation and what he was going through.

"He never talked about what was going on," says Peter Smyth, another Princeton senior. "Nobody knew anything about how bad it was and what he was going through. When he said that his wife was going to the hospice, that was the first time he really opened up to us. On the day she passed away, he came in and told us face-to-face."

While Coach Bates was holding everything together, Nick was left with the realities that were settling in, a situation that is unfathomable for an adult, let alone a child who actually has to go through it.

"Try to put yourself in his shoes," Cunningham says. "It's impossible. Basically, the whole time he knew his mother, she was sick. We made it our business to integrate him as much as we could into the team. He's happy when he's here. He's happy when he's with his dad and seeing him coach and hanging out with the guys."

And so in a huge and comforting way, the Princeton players started to do just that.

"It began last year when Tyler Moni, Zach Drexler and Tim Palmer [players from last year's team] took him to a Phillies game," Smyth says. "We started to think about how it would be nice to take Nick somewhere, to get to know him. I think it might have been something we wanted to do anyway, but there was an extra emphasis on it with what Coach Bates was going through."

As such, a group of players took Nick and his friend to Six Flags Great Adventure over the summer.

"We spent the day there," Smyth says. "I think some of the guys got sick on the roller-coasters."

Then there was this past fall, when Nick was playing in a local youth soccer league and his team had reached the semifinals. This time, Chris Bates needed someone to go with Nick.

What he got was a group of 12 players, who brought Nick to the game and stood on the sidelines, wildly cheering. In somewhat storybook fashion, Nick responded with two goals and an assist in his team's 3-2 win.

"He was the best player out there," Smyth says. "I think the opposing parents were confused. They had to be wondering what all these college kids were doing there, going nuts in the stands."


In addition, Nick has served as a ballboy for Princeton basketball. Even when his father couldn't be there with him in the final days of his mother's life, Nick would be there, brought by Lindsey Bates, his grandfather, who would sit in the stands and watch his grandson, all at once welcoming the relief from the situation while coming to grips with the inevitable.

Wiedmaier and Fiorito have worked with the athletic marketing staff, and as such have been around Nick during games. It was in that role that they were next to him at the women's game, during the moment of silence.

"It's great seeing him at the basketball games," Fiorito says. "All the guys come up to him, say hi. I thought it was great for him that he could be here the day after his mom passed away and still live his life. I have him throw t-shirts into the crowd with me. He loves it.

"To be honest, that's the easy part. Going to Nick's game. Seeing him score two goals. Taking him to Six Flags. Besides, going with your parents is one thing. Going with a bunch of college kids? He was nervous about going on one ride, the Green Lantern. It ended up being his favorite ride. For most of his life, his mother was sick. Moments like we had with him, that's where he could be just a kid."

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2012-02-21



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