Spring is his favorite time of the year.
It has nothing to do with the days getting longer, warmer weather or pretty flowers.
Since first picking up a lacrosse stick in 1982 as a novice college player his senior year at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey, Jim Scully hasn’t strayed too far away from the sport for the better part of the past four decades.
This spring, Scully was licking his chops for likely the best lacrosse campaign he’d have at Gilmour since taking over the varsity reins in 2017. On top of that, he was excited to teach history for the spring semester at Hathaway Brown, filling in for a teacher on medical leave.
But that all got put on hold from the pandemic, which perhaps was a blessing in disguise with a pair of hardships in his immediate family.
Gilmour junior goalie Kessel Richards, a three-sport athlete, said the cancellation of the 2020 spring sports season was devastating, especially with the expectations the Lancer laxers had for this campaign.
“For Mr. Scully, lacrosse season is his favorite time of year,” Richards said. “There’s no better time for him than playing lacrosse and seeing his team play and be successful. So, I mean, it was just hard on everyone.”
Scully, of Russell Township, isn’t on the sidelines coaching for just the second lacrosse season since 2000, but that’s allowed him to tend to more important family matters.
In November, his elder son, Pete, a 2007 graduate of Hawken School, was diagnosed with a bone cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. Pete is now beyond the midpoint of his chemo treatment at the Cleveland Clinic.
And on April 25, Pete and his wife, Janie (Stricker) Scully, a three-sport athlete and 2007 Chagrin Falls graduate, welcomed their firstborn to the world, a daughter, Emerson Jane Scully. Two days later, she died from Hydrops Fetalis.
“It’s a really devastating condition, and very few babies actually even are born,” Jim Scully said. “So, we were grateful that we got to meet our granddaughter. That meant a lot to us.”
As hard as the COVID-19 pandemic has been for the majority of people on the planet, the silver lining for Scully and his wife, Elizabeth, has been their availability.
“I was going to be teaching at HB, and obviously we were so excited for lacrosse at Gilmour, but all of those things are out of my life for the time being,” Scully said. “So, that’s allowed me to be 100 percent available to Pete and Janie.
“I got to spend time with them at the Clinic during his chemo. We visited their house and walked their dogs and mowed the lawn, and do just any little things we can to just help the day-to-day living. And that’s meant a lot, just to be able to help with the recycling, empty the dishwater, you know, things like that. It’s been a real blessing.”
Pete and Janie, who tied the knot in February 2019, now live in Lakewood.
Pete was a three-year letterman as a short-stick midfielder for the Hawken lacrosse team. As a senior in 2007, he was part of the Hawks’ state final-four run that ended in a close loss against New Albany. That team featured Alec Bialosky, who went on to win a Division III NCAA championship at Tufts University.
Last year, Janie noticed a prominent lump on the back of Pete’s shaved head and encouraged him to get it checked out. The removed lump was sent out for a biopsy, which came back malignant for Ewing’s Sarcoma. Fortunately, they caught it early and it did not spread.
“But it’s a really aggressive cancer, and it’s usually seen in children,” Jim Scully said. “So, it was kind of weird. Pete was 30 when he was diagnosed, and it was a pretty straightforward decision for full-on chemo. So, he’s really kind of leaned into his treatment plan, and it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. We’re proud of him for that. So, the prognosis, if I dare say it, is pretty good.”
Through chemo, Pete has continued to work his job at the Partnership for Income Restricted Housing Leadership, or PIRHL, a limited liability company based in Cleveland that develops affordable housing projects all over the country.
Prior to his diagnosis, Pete had been a very health-conscious person – including diet and exercise – with a weight setup in his basement that would please any NFL lineman, his dad said.
“He’s worked really hard to maintain a certain level of health, which I think is really helping him through this ordeal,” Jim Scully said. “And, like I had mentioned, he’s just very engaged in his work. He’s a project leader. And I think he gets a lot of gratification out of his work. And that’s kept him mentally and emotionally engaged through cancer.
“He has never asked the questions, ‘Why me?’ or, ‘Why us?’ There’s really no self-pity. And that’s been part of his strength and working through this.”
While the Scully family has been hit with a pair of hardships, Gilmour student-athlete Richards was motivated to do something to support his coach during tough times. That’s when he reached out to the Head Strong Foundation – which offers financial, residential and emotional support to families affected by cancer – to set up a fundraiser to help with the burden of medical expenses for Pete and Janie.
With support from athletes and families from Gilmour, Hawken and Kenston, among others, Richards organized a virtual 5K fundraiser for Saturday, May 23, with participants encouraged to send photos of their runs or their times with the hashtag “ScullyStrong.”
“I had already known from a few months ago that Mr. Scully’s son had developed cancer,” Richards said. “And then when I heard the news of his granddaughter passing away is when I really had the thought of, ‘I need to do something,’ to show that I am here for him and that the whole community is around him wanting to help him.”
Scully started coaching in his home state of Massachusetts in the mid-1980s, before he and his wife moved out to Wisconsin and then relocated again in 1994 to Northeast Ohio and settled down with their family of three children in Russell Township.
In 2000, Scully fathered the middle-school lacrosse program at Hawken School, going on to coach his son Pete, and then took over the varsity reins at the upper school in 2009. He also had the opportunity to coach his younger son, Ethan, a 2015 Hawken graduate.
In addition to coaching, Scully spent 23 of his 36 years teaching at Hawken and had all three of his children in the seventh-grade classroom, including his daughter Hannah.
“They all have different stories about that,” he said. Two of them got B’s.
In 2016, he decided to step away from the lacrosse sidelines to be a spectator and watch his younger son play his freshman year at the College of Wooster.
But he had trouble sitting still that spring.
“I came to the conclusion that I’m a really poor spectator of lacrosse,” Scully said back in 2017, when he returned to a head coaching role, but at Gilmour Academy.
“I don’t watch it very well from the stands,” he said. “And I really missed it.”
While Scully enjoyed winning campaigns during six of his seven seasons with the varsity Hawks, including two trips to the state final four, he had some building to do with the Lancers, in terms of getting up their roster numbers.
Richards was a freshman at the time and was also Scully’s student in the classroom for ninth-grade English.
“I was the backup goalie, and we had a senior goalie, and (Scully) would always tell me, ‘Your time is coming,’” Richards said. “And he always had faith in me. He even let me play on the field as a player. He always pushed me and coached me to get better. And he’s a phenomenal teacher, helping literally anyone he could around the school.”
With his connection to Scully, Richards said he had no choice but to help out his coach’s son Pete in a time of need.
“I have not met either of (Scully’s sons), but, if they’re anything like Mr. Scully, then they’re really nice people,” Richards said.
In addition to coaching at Hawken and Gilmour, Scully also was an assistant coach for the boys basketball program at Kenston this past winter season.
Richards said the donations towards the Scully Family Relief Fund through the Head Strong Foundation have not only been from people in Northeast Ohio but from Scully’s home state of Massachusetts as well.
“He’s taught me to always have an open mind in everything I do,” Richards said. “He never counts anybody out, even during lacrosse. He thinks everybody is the greatest player, and he treats them like they are, and he coaches them like they’re the greatest player – everybody on the team. That’s why I wanted to help.”
Those who want to register for the 5K or donate money to the Scully Family Relief Fund can do so at the following website: pledge.headstrong.org/event/scully-relief-fund/e285650.