EGG HARBOR CITY — Julian Connerton plans to join the rest of his youth football teammates in their team picture today. And if he wants to, he can wear his pink gloves.
Connerton left the opening game of the Egg Harbor City Crusaders seventh- and eighth-grade youth football team Saturday in Ocean City when his coach told him he could not wear his pink gloves.
The-12 year-old seventh-grader at Egg Harbor City Community School was planning to wear them all season in support of his mother, Mayra Cruz-Connerton, who was diagnosed with breast cancer over the summer.
On Tuesday night, while the rest of his teammates were practicing, Julian met with coach Paul Burgan at the family’s home for about an hour. Burgan apologized for the misunderstanding and asked him to return to the team and wear the gloves during the entire season.
After his private meeting with the family, Burgan, 26, said he simply forgot about the reason his center/nose guard wanted to wear the gloves at the time and if he remembered “of course” he would have let him wear them. Burgan, of Mullica Township, said he oversees about 100 players on the team and he had a lot of things to deal with before the start of the opening game.
“He did something 100 percent right. He stood up for his mother. That’s what you want every kid to do,” Burgan said. “In the end you don’t want to hurt any one of the kids’ feelings. At the time I didn’t know I hurt his feelings. I feel bad. You don’t want this to happen to anyone’s mother.”
Julian said after the meeting he felt much better and all the stress he had been dealing with in the past few days had disappeared. He now looks forward to playing Saturday’s home opener against Somers Point.
“I feel better. Everything is gone. My throat and stomach is clear. Everything,” he said. “I just want to play football again. I miss it.”
And he said he has no regrets. “I just wanted to support my mom — not just her but everyone with breast cancer,” Julian said. Burgan said Julian “is one of the most respectful kids I know,” and that may have kept him from objecting. “He doesn’t speak up. That’s what he’s taught. He doesn’t talk back,” Burgan said of his player.
The league has actually been a supporter of breast cancer research and for the past three years has had a game in which the field is decorated pink and every player and cheerleader wears pink socks. The local organization then collects money for breast cancer research.
Burgan said the event will be this weekend and that Julian will be one of the team’s spokespeople for the importance of the cause. Burgan said the organization may hold additional breast cancer events during the year.
Many of the players on the team wear black or green gloves — the Crusaders’ colors. Julian has a pair of green gloves he wears during practice.
The family had told the coaches about Mayra Cruz-Connerton’s illness. Burgan said he even knew about it before Julian.
When the coach told Julian he couldn’t wear the gloves, Julian took them off and then a teammate told him to put them back on.
When Burgan told him to remove the gloves a second time, Julian said he decided he didn’t want to play. The family left the game at halftime.
Louis Barrios, a member of the Crusaders Youth Athletic League Association’s board of directors, said it was a miscommunication, not a dramatic confrontation between player and coach.
Saturday’s game was delayed because of rain and Burgan noticed the gloves as the players returned from the bus, Barrios said.
“It wasn’t a face-to-face (argument). There was a lot of chaos and a lot of commotion everywhere,” Barrios said. “He didn’t have the time to sit and pay attention to every individual kid.”
Julian’s decision drew a lot of attention from local and national media, as well as social media. Facebook pages were set up in support of Julian, and his mother said they were overwhelmed and appreciative of all the support.
Burgan said he didn’t realized what had happened Saturday night and was surprised to see all the attention. He said many of Julian’s teammates miss him and have been asking what happened since the game.
One irony: Mayra Cruz-Connerton didn’t even like the color pink. But since her diagnosis, she said friends have been sending her a lot of pink clothing. She was wearing pink sneakers Tuesday.
“My husband said I should start liking the color pink,” she said.
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