After a medical scare, Atlee lacrosse player returns to school and inspires others

Posted at 12:16 PM, May 11, 2023

HANOVER COUNTY, Va. -- As the defending state champions in Class Four, the Atlee High School Boys' lacrosse team has lofty expectations.

But it wasn't always that way.

The Class of 2019 was the first Atlee class to break through and challenge for a state title.

That class made a state championship and a state semifinal but never won the crown.

Those Raiders helped to build the program by encouraging and learning from each other without the benefit of successful alumni to guide them.

"They were the first group that were really lacrosse players," Atlee lacrosse coach Fielding Crawford. "A lot of them were multi-sport athletes as well but lacrosse was their number one sport."

Mason Walczak was part of those teams.

"[He was] so scrappy and just brought an energy to our team," Crawford said. "We had a tough letdown in the state championship but he left it all on the field. That particular game was one of his best. When the big moment came, he was there to thrive."

Atlee lacrosse coach Fielding Crawford
Atlee lacrosse coach Fielding Crawford

Walczak has returned to Atlee to provide whatever help he can to the current coaching staff.

He played with the older brothers of some of this year's team and they can all remember his impact on the field back then.

"I know they looked up to us in their middle school years. Knowing they were going to have success, I was just excited to see what would come next," Raiders Asst. Coach Walczak said.

As much fun as he was having with this year's team, he'd rather not be doing it at all.

Walczak was entering his senior year at James Madison University last fall when he began to not feel well and that feeling didn't go away.

Last November, Walczak was diagnosed with Stage 3 large B-cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

The athlete in him allowed no time for pity or worry.

"The first thing I thought was what's next? What are we going to do to move on from here, not how am I going to sit and mourn about this," he said.

Mason Walczak
Mason Walczak

Regular chemotherapy treatments and hospitalizations rang up significant medical bills for the Walczak family.

"To see someone his age have to tackle something like that, I was floored and devastated. For us, it was what can we do to help even if it's something small," Crawford said.

The Atlee seniors organized a benefit dodgeball tournament, during school hours, to raise what they could to help Walczak and his family.

"They did everything they had to do. They jumped through every hoop. They had to get it approved through our county and through the school board and they did it all on their own. I was so proud of them," Crawford said.

"It definitely made me tear up," Walczak said. "Seeing guys really want to put in something out of their time to do that means a lot."

Although Walczak has neared the end of his treatments, he still experiences good days and bad days.

The best days are when he made it to the field to impart whatever wisdom he can and be a little closer to the game he loves.

"He's the most positive person I know and he's dealing with that. It's cool to see and cool to learn from," Atlee Raiders Senior Attack Kevin Miller said.

"Every day I do obviously want to be out here," Walczak said. "If I wake up feeling ill, I hope to feel better by 4 p.m. so I can be out here. I'm taking medicines every day. I'm praying for the best."

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