Few groups, it seems, are as tightly knit as the Absegami High School family.
Early last month, 1994 graduate Shannon Lai's son, Conner, received a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma. A military family, Lai and Conner moved to Mays Landing two years ago after living overseas.
Despite her long time away, Lai said the support she has received from the community has made her feel as though she never left.
"I haven't seen a lot of people in a long time, but Absegami was like a family," She said. "They've all come out of the woodwork to help."
On Oct. 28, friends of the Lai family will hold the "Curing Conner" softball tournament at Pitney Recreation Park in Absecon.
Eric Allen, also a 1994 graduate, is the organizer of the event. Although he hasn't seen Lai much since graduation, he said he knew he had to help out as soon as he heard the news of Conner's diagnosis.
"I have children; I couldn't imagine what she's going through," the Galloway resident said. "I just wanted to help her out and try to put something together. It made me sick to my stomach someone was going through this, so I tried to help her put something together to help her son out."
Conner first showed symptoms of the disease late last year, his mother said, in the form of swollen lymph nodes. He initially received a diagnosis of mononucleosis and was put on a course of antibiotics, which had no effect. Lai said at first, Conner's doctors believed his continuing symptoms were residual effects of mono, but when a lymph node under his armpit swelled to the size of a baseball in two months, she knew it was time to get him checked out.
Conner has undergone chemotherapy. Treatment has left him fatigued, his mother said, and he is starting to lose his hair.
Conner began the year as a freshman at Absegami, as the family was in the process of moving to Galloway before his diagnosis, but his attendance has since been sporadic. He said the support he has received from the community has been vital in his fight against the disease.
"It means a lot to me," Conner said. "It shows that I have a lot of good friends and family. It's giving me strength, knowing that lots of people are here to support me whenever."
Conner's father is stationed in Puerto Rico, and his being so far away has been a struggle. While he was able to secure leave when Conner received his diagnosis, it was short.
Having friends around who have been so willing to help, Lai said, has gone a long way in helping her and Conner.
"I'm very thankful to be back home and have all the support," Lai said. "I've been alone a lot the past few years because my husband is overseas, so I've got a family and friends here. It's wonderful."
The event begins at 9 a.m., rain or shine, and will go as late as it has to. Teams must have a minimum of 10 players, two of them female. Participation requires a $20 donation per person and includes a free T-shirt.
Contact Braden Campbell:
If you go
What: Curing Conner Softball Fundraiser
When: 9 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 28
Where: Pitney Recreation Park, Absecon
How much: $20 for competitors. $100 for sponsors.
More info: Contact organizer Eric Allen at 609-289-0720 or email email@example.com.