In honor of Chris
YOUNGSTOWN – Thomas Smythe was a live-for-the-moment man who saw an appeal in the rough-and-tumble sport of rugby.
Like most men who play on the club level, Smythe undoubtedly relished the chance to release the tensions of life on the pitch. His son William often joined him, forming a unique and seldom-seen father-son duo in a physically-demanding sport where age differences aren’t forgiving.
Smythe, known to family and friends as Chris, was also drawn to rugby by the camaraderie of its participants. His teammates on the Steel Valley Rugby Club of Youngstown were more than buddies who locked arms in scrums – they were brothers in arms who will do anything to help each other.
That bond surfaced a year ago last January when the Steel Valley club staged a charity Rugby 10 tournament to raise money for Smythe and Youngstown police officer Victor Gasior, both of whom were battling cancer. Gasior, who had melanoma, is now cancer free. Smythe unfortunately lost his battle with kidney cancer last April.
In continuing its commitment to fighting cancer, the club will host the Thomas “Chris” Smythe Memorial 10s tournament Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. at the Watson and Tressel Training Site on the Youngstown State University campus. Fourteen teams from Ohio and neighboring states will pay an entry fee of $250 to help the cause.
Smythe’s widow Diane has decided to donate this year’s financial collection to the Silver Lining Cancer Fund. The fund provides monetary relief for every-day expenses incurred by families with loved ones undergoing cancer treatment.
Chris and Diane were able to handle all their financial needs during his treatment, which meant money raised last year went to the Gasior family. Diane believes Chris would be pleased to know that his name will again be used in connection with the rugby community to raise funds for a cause near and dear to his heart.
“Chris said that you can be competitive on the pitch, but the minute the game is over, you’re all brothers,” Diane said. “They would always go out afterwards for social time and enjoy each other’s company. He loved the reception and camaraderie.”
Gasior has never played rugby. He was selected to receive final assistance last year on the request of friend and fellow Youngstown police officer William Burton, who plays for Steel Valley Rugby.
The melanoma on Gasior’s back had spread to his lymph nodes and arms by the time of the event in January of 2013. He’s thankful for the help of his close friend Burton and the friends he’s met through the rugby family.
“It was great,” Gasior said. “It restored my faith in humanity a little bit to see everyone going out of their way to help someone they didn’t know.”
Teams participating in the event will come from Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Indiana. They will play tournament-style matches consisting of 10-minute halves. The championship game is expected to begin at about 4 p.m.
For Burton, the fundraiser is a labor of love and an affirmation that his friends in rugby are more than just men playing a boy’s game on weekends.
“We definitely want to help out the community in Chris’ name,” Burton said. “He was successful at the time when he got sick. He didn’t want anything for himself. We had the charity event, and a bar call and a spaghetti dinner for the Silver Lining. That’s what Chris wanted. He felt he was blessed and successful in life, and he wanted it to go to people that need help. We’ve honored his wishes.”
Chris and Diane met when both were students at Denison University, from where Chris graduated in 1983. Chris was a native of Mount Vernon, Ohio, and Diane is from Youngstown.
Chris had a long association with rugby as a player, coach and referee. He played for the Mad Dogs in Canton before joining the Steel Valley team. He also played in the Phoenix area and in Florida.
There was a time when Diane thought it might be wise to direct Chris out of the sport. She soon realized she was fighting a losing battle.
“I was trying to get Chris out of rugby and instead my son dragged him into it,” Diane said. “My son loves it, too.”
There’s no question that rugby loved Chris back. He died five months after being diagnosed, leaving a widow and two children who value the lessons he taught of cherishing life to the fullest.
“He was in hospice the last four days of his life,” Diane said. “(His rugby teammates) basically kept a vigil. Someone from the team was there for him every moment. As a whole, they are very loyal people. The camaraderie and loyalty is undeniable.”
And they say that soccer is the beautiful sport.