High School Sports

Bellefonte seniors keeping Dylan Crunick’s memory alive — 3 years after his death

A plaque honoring Dylan Crunick is displayed during a dedication ceremony for Crunick on Monday at Bellefonte Area High School.
A plaque honoring Dylan Crunick is displayed during a dedication ceremony for Crunick on Monday at Bellefonte Area High School. psheehan@centredaily.com

Surrounded by his six fellow seniors near the mound, Garrett Reiter tried his best to keep his emotions in check while speaking about the missing eighth player in their class on Bellefonte’s Senior Day.

Reiter’s ballcap shielded his face while he spoke about his friend, Dylan Crunick, who died of cancer in 2014, and explained why it meant so much to his teammates to honor their fallen friend. “This is something bigger than all of us, and we couldn’t have done it without you,” Reiter said before the Red Raiders’ game against Bald Eagle Area on Monday.

Reiter wanted people to know who Dylan was and why the seniors wanted to remember him with a plaque. Reiter mentioned how Dylan continued to touch others during his battle with cancer and explained that Dylan didn’t want to be forgotten. He was the “greatest friend, brother and teammate anyone could ask for.”

“Dylan, I know you are watching over us today,” Reiter continued, telling his friend that he touched so many lives.

Reiter said Dylan is always on the baseball field with his teammates — they’ve kept his memory alive — and added that Dylan was definitely watching over the Red Raiders on Monday. Bellefonte senior Greg Watson can still feel Dylan’s presence on the field in tight games when the Red Raiders need a hit and when an opposing runner reaches third base, just a passed ball away from scoring.

“I know that Dylan’s there backing me up,” Watson said.

Fellow senior Logan Mathieu said he thinks about his friend every day. Most of them do. Reiter made that sentiment clear in his speech before the unveiling of the plaque, which features a photo of Dylan and reads:

In Loving Memory Of Our Friend And Teammate

DYLAN K. CRUNICK

His Love And Passion For The Game Of Baseball, And Life Itself, Has Inspired The Many Who Knew Him Throughout This Community. Dylan’s Kindness, Perseverance, And Genuine Character Keeps His Legacy Alive In The Hearts Of All Those Who Called Him A Friend.

-Dedicated By Teammates From The Class of 2017

The plaque, made possible by the team’s fundraising efforts, will be installed inside the team’s dugout, keeping Dylan’s legacy alive permanently at Bellefonte.

“We wanted to have the future players be able to walk in the dugout and see that plaque and just kind of remind them of how precious life is and how precious your time is on the baseball field,” Reiter said.

***

By the end of his Little League career, everyone knew Dylan Crunick by his first name — he was the superstar who received intentional walks with the bases loaded and overpowered opposing teams on the mound. One year, Tyler Kreger remembers, Dylan hit a “ridiculous” number of home runs.

“Everyone was joking around that he was on steroids because he hit so many out,” said Kreger, who played against Dylan in Little League.

Added Mathieu: “Skill-wise, he could have been on varsity in eighth grade.”

Dylan played basketball too, but his favorite sport was baseball. His father, David, remembers dropping balloons for a 2-year-old Dylan to hit, starting his love affair with the game. Reiter would arrive for sleepovers at his house to find Dylan and his brother, Cooper, hitting in their garage. The Crunicks would write “Crun” on their baseballs and left their share at various fields in the area.

“I think everybody in Bellefonte probably has a ‘Crun’ ball in their bucket,” Kreger said.

In Dylan’s final year of Little League, he led Bellefonte to the District 5 championship. He also left an impression on his travel team with his passion for the game. During one game in another state, the program’s director, Mark Helsel, watched near David and Kristen Crunick when Dylan drew a walk and sprinted to first as if he had just bunted.

“Mark, with tears in his eyes and laughing, turns around and just says, ‘That is it. That is what I’m looking for,’” David said. “And he goes over to the bench and he yells at all the kids and he says, ‘That’s what we need. We need you to act like that.’”

His friends saw Dylan’s competitive nature during basketball battles in the neighborhood. But they said he was also the smartest kid in class and he could talk to anybody as if he knew them his entire life.

His mother, Kristen, said he was an “old soul” who exuded a quiet confidence yet stayed humble.

“He was just a good person,” Kristen said. “He was the best person I think I’ve ever known.”

***

Dylan Crunick refused to let cancer hold him back.

After his diagnosis in November 2012, Dylan did everything he could to remain a normal kid. He wanted to be the first appointment of the day for his chemotherapy treatments in Danville, Pa. — he didn’t care how early he had to wake up — so he could return home and attend school. He still ran around the neighborhood like old times, and he continued to play basketball and baseball.

“You would forget that he had cancer,” Reiter said. “When I first heard he was diagnosed I didn’t think anything of it. I was like, ‘He’s going to beat this, he’s going to be the same great kid we’ve always known,’ and he still was that same great kid.”

Dylan kept a positive attitude with the help of one of his doctors, who said she could envision him as an old man sitting in his rocking chair looking back on his life. Dylan maintained that belief, focusing on putting in his 42 weeks of chemotherapy and beating his form of cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma, a disease in which malignant cells form in muscle tissue.

When a group of students asked about purchasing an iPad or video game system to help take Dylan’s mind off his treatments, he said he didn’t need anything and told them that many kids in school had it worse. He served as an inspiration for teammates and opponents alike on the basketball court and baseball field, and he ran sprints in a neighborhood Summer Olympics, giving his best effort through fatigue. He was still the same great kid, but he couldn’t always hang out with his friends as he went through treatments.

“It wasn’t always smooth sailing,” his mother said. “There were lots of tears. There was lots of nights of him being sick and just not knowing how you’re going to get through the next minute or hour or day.

“But in general, I think he held on to that belief that he just knew that he was going to be fine.”

After his treatment ended, Kristen said the cancer returned almost immediately. The Crunicks went to hospitals in Boston and New York City to see if there was anything more they could do. Dylan was always asking his mother about the next step, but they learned there weren’t “a whole lot of options.”

In the final days of Dylan’s life, it was hard for his friends to see him suffer. Reiter recalls going to his house to watch the 2014 AFC championship game and seeing Dylan hooked up to oxygen. But after being around him, Reiter saw past it, saying his personality overshadowed it. Four days later, Kreger visited Dylan for the last time, watching basketball with him and shaking his hand to say goodbye before breaking down when he got to the car — he knew his friend wasn’t doing well.

Three days later, on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, Dylan died of cancer. Kreger received the news from his mother while he was at his brother’s youth basketball game at Bellefonte High School.

“I just cried a little bit just thinking about it, and I couldn’t even really talk,” Kreger said. “I don’t know how to describe it. It was just a really terrible and sad feeling, but at the same time, you were glad he didn’t have to go through what he was going through anymore.”

***

This season, Reiter started to scrawl “DC” in the dirt behind second base before the first pitch. He thought about Dylan during the season opener at DuBois and decided he wanted to honor his friend during the rest of the team’s games.

He’s remembered his friend on the baseball field since his freshman year in 2014 — the first season without Dylan.

“It was a very tough year for me, and I knew the baseball season would just be even tougher because he should be out there with us,” Reiter said. “So I thought, ‘What can I do to remind me that he’s still out there with us?’ And it was simple: Just write his initials on my cleats.”

The tributes calm Reiter and prepare him for each game while also keeping his friend’s memory alive. Reiter and Mathieu are among Dylan’s teammates and friends who still wear a wrist band featuring his initials; Kristen said some wore them to the point that they’ve broken. Watson said he always tries to arrive to practice 30 minutes early like he and Dylan did to play long toss together in Little League.

Kreger, Dylan’s best friend, tries to honor his friend in how he lives each day, aiming to work hard, be honest and treat everyone with kindness — all characteristics that defined Dylan.

“To know that he isn’t forgotten — because as a parent, that’s your worst fear and that was his worst fear also before he passed to think that people would forget him — I know at this point that he will never be forgotten,” Kristen said.

His family, friends and the Bellefonte community ensured Dylan’s legacy would live on. His mother felt she needed to do something and started the DC8 Fund, which provides the Dylan K. Crunick Memorial Scholarship for a Bellefonte senior in addition to donating money to childhood cancer research through the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s research foundation.

“I can’t bring him back, but I can use what we went through to help others and to raise money for childhood cancer research,” Kristen said.

Bellefonte Little League recognizes one player with the Dylan K. Crunick Memorial Award each year. And, now, the plaque in the high school dugout will preserve his memory.

***

His friends know Dylan would have been on this Bellefonte team with them.

So it made sense to honor him on Senior Day. A photo of him pitching hung on the bullpen fence among photos of the seniors in their youth baseball days.

The group posed for photos with those old pictures after the game before taking another group picture holding Dylan’s plaque.

“These were his best friends that are on this team,” Kristen said. “These were kids who were there and went through this with us and lived this nightmare with us and lived it with Dylan.

“For them to do this, it means everything to us to know that he’ll always be remembered.”

Making a difference

Here’s a look at some organizations dedicated to childhood cancer research and how to donate:

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

Donate online: https://give.chop.edu/page/contribute/cancer-center

Donate by phone: 267-426-6500

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation

Donate online: www.alexslemonade.org

Donate by phone: (866) 333-1213

St. Baldrick’s Foundation

Donate online: www.stbaldricks.org/donate/stbaldricks/

Donate by phone: (888) 899-2253

Bellefonte 4, Bald Eagle Area 2

Bellefonte’s Dylan Deitrich made Bald Eagle Area pay Monday.

The Eagles intentionally walked Logan Mathieu in the fifth inning to load the bases with two outs for Deitrich, who lined a two-run single into right field to break a tie. The Red Raiders went on to win 4-2 on Senior Day.

Senior Ethan Corman allowed two runs in five innings to earn the win for Bellefonte. Garrett Reiter paced the Red Raiders with two hits and pitched a scoreless seventh inning to seal the win.

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