Three years after death, Mack Brady continues growing sport of soccer

Penn State’s Kyle MacDonald leads 5- to 7-year-old soccer players in a game during the fourth annual Mack Brady Soccer Clinic at Holuba Hall on Saturday. The clinic doubled as a 12th birthday celebration for Mack, who died three years ago.
Penn State’s Kyle MacDonald leads 5- to 7-year-old soccer players in a game during the fourth annual Mack Brady Soccer Clinic at Holuba Hall on Saturday. The clinic doubled as a 12th birthday celebration for Mack, who died three years ago.

The sound of a group of kids screaming “Happy birthday, Mack” echoed at the indoor soccer complex at Holuba Hall.

With soccer balls in hand, a group of about two dozen kids learning goalkeeping skills huddled on part of the artificial soccer field. On the count of three, they each thew the balls in the air while simultaneously yelling the birthday call.

Mack Brady would have turned 12 Saturday.

His family, in partnership with Penn State and the men’s soccer team, held the fourth annual Mack Brady Soccer Clinic.

“There’s honestly nowhere else I can imagine being on his birthday,” Mack’s mother, Elizabeth Brady, said.

Mack, a former Park Forest Elementary School student, died three years ago from a bacteria infection.

And to help keep his memory alive, the annual soccer clinic was founded.

His father, Christian Brady, also said one men’s soccer game each season is dedicated in memory of Mack.

“Those are the two main events,” Christian Brady, dean of the Schreyer Honors College, said. “Mack loved soccer and was so invested in the sport, and this is how we make sure no one forgets his name. ... Grieving is hard no matter what, but this is how we celebrate him.”

A fund to help the men’s soccer team was also created.

Christian Brady said Mack was a goalie, which is why part of the clinic was focused on goalkeeper training with two Penn Sate goalies and a former keeper.

“He was pretty advanced for a kid his age,” Brady said. “He loved being the last line of defense, and would have loved seeing the guys he used to watch every home game practice that skill set with his peers.”

The first clinic was held about two weeks after Mack died.

Christian Brady said that event attracted about 150 kids ages 12 and younger.

Saturday’s clinic was held for kids ages 16 and younger, and had 173 participants, the biggest clinic in event history.

“We wanted to open it to more kids as Mack’s friends are getting older and would have started aging out of U-12,” Elizabeth Brady said. “And it’s exposing the sport and training to so many more kids.”

It included goalkeeper training, basic dribbling, and a session with Triangle Training, a set of exercises developed by Penn State men’s soccer coach Bob Warming that focuses on agility, quick feet and polymetrics.

And those training exercises were conducted by Warming and his team.

“There’s a lot we’re blessed with,” Warming said. “Mack loved soccer, and I understand as parents we follow the things they do, which is why this clinic is so important.”

Warming said it also aligned with his team’s mission and goal.

“We’re a giving bunch,” Warming said. “That’s what we do, but we also recognize Mack as sort of like an honorary member of the team. They boys know that, and in a way they’re living Mack’s dream.”

Goalkeepers freshman Wes Bergevin and junior Evan Finney, along with former Penn State keeper Danny Sheerin, held their own goal keep training in the front part of the indoor facility.

Spearheaded by Finney, he said the goal was to teach kids the basics of goalkeeping.

“It’s the fundamentals we want them to walk away with,” he said. “Once they know the basics, then they’ll get everything else that comes with it. Plus we’re having a lot of fun.”

Bergevin, in his first year volunteering at the event, said he reminded kids not to be afraid to dive, and be aggressive.

Drills like shooting, diving and modified diving, body placement, and arm exercises were part of goalkeeper training. It also included communication.

“You have to be the loudest on the field,” Finney said.

Finney said goalkeepers yell “keeper.” It’s a universal terms spoken on the pitch as a way to let other field players know when they have the ball in a chaotic defensive situation.

But Sheerin, who graduated in December and participated in every Mack Brady Soccer Clinic, said he sees the event from a different perspective.

“I’ve been helping out since the first one, and seen it grow,” Sheerin said. “We see a bigger turnout, hope to encourage some kids to play goal, and most importantly see that it brings out something really positive from his loss.”

Money raised during the clinic, and other donations made to the Mack Brady Soccer Fund, go specifically toward Penn State goaltenders.

“It’s the only fund of its kind,” Christian Brady said.

Warming said the money for goalkeeper enhancement and outreach is put toward three things in that position: “recruiting, retaining and helping develop the best goalkeepers in the country.”

“This fund is special,” Warming said. “We don’t have a lot that usually goes into one area, but it helps enhance what we’re trying to do.”

He said it’s also something to make sure no one forgets Mack.

“If you lost a child, you don’t want his name to never be spoken again,” Warming said. “Mack will always be remembered because this is his endowment.”

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo