Chandler boy with cancer gets to meet his hero - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler boy with cancer gets to meet his hero

June 13th, 2019 development
Chandler boy with cancer gets to meet his hero

By Lin Sue Cooney
Guest Writer

Parker Young caught the basketball bug early on. He began playing at age 9 and has been a fan ever since — high school to pro ball. At 5 feet 9 inches, the 14-year-old is in his element on a basketball court.

“He lived, breathed, walked and talked basketball,” Cindy Olvera says of her only child.

Faced with bone cancer that has spread to his lungs, the Chandler teen can no longer play. But the young Hospice of the Valley patient still roots passionately for Nico Mannion, an 18-year-old basketball phenom from Scottsdale.

As a senior, the 6-foot-3, top-rated point guard led Pinnacle High School’s team to victory in the 6A Boys Championship this year. He’ll play for The University of Arizona this fall.

Though Parker had been to games to cheer him on, he had never met Nico.

As luck would have it, Parker’s social worker, Pamela Ruzi ran into HOV volunteer Deb Behrendt and asked if the high school English teacher knew Nico. Deb was overjoyed to share that Nico had been in her class last year and was sure the “sweet young man” with a “beautiful heart” would be happy to meet Parker.

She reached out to coaches, who reached out to Nico and the rest of the team. Of course, it was game on!

On an early May afternoon, Parker and Nico met on the basketball court. Within minutes, they were chatting and shooting hoops like old gym buddies.

“His left hand is better than my right hand,” Nico remarks while practicing free throws.

“You shoot better than some of my teammates!” he tells Parker. They laugh and keep shooting.

But here’s the real game plan: Nico wants Parker to know he’s there for him — the whole team is.

“He’s been in all of our prayers,” Nico says.

Then the final play — Parker gets to meet Nico’s teammates and several football stars. One by one, they greet Parker.

“I wasn’t expecting all of this,” Parker says. “I got to meet the whole team, it’s even better!”

But there’s more. Parker gets seated in front of the team’s shiny 2018-19 championship trophy and Nico’s Pinnacle Pioneers jersey for a photo op.

“Keep your head up and spirits high,” Nico writes on the white No. 1 jersey that he gifts Parker.

The players sign a basketball and a football for their new “bro,” and take group pictures.

Parker and Nico exchange phone numbers and hug — and a friendship is cemented. 

Longtime Pinnacle boys basketball coach Charlie Wilde and his players couldn’t have been happier to make Parker’s day. Deb, who has taught many of these young athletes, saw it as a win-win.

“It was nice to see Parker being a boy. He’s been through so much,” she says.

“I had a lot of fun!” Parker says. So did the whole team.

“This is a really big deal for us,” Nico says. “To be a part of his journey is a blessing for us.”

Lin Sue Cooney is director of community engagement for Hospice of the Valley. Visit or call 602-530-6900 for more information.

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