By: Shana Levine
Associate Athletic Director
About a week ago I had the privilege of being a part of the first annual Conway Cup. The tournament was the brainchild of Stephen Ross, current academic advisor and former men’s soccer coach at VMI. The idea was a brilliant one. All of us wanted to do something other than sit around and jumped at the call for help. Stephen recruited and coached our friend Tony Conway at VMI in the late 1990’s. Stephen brought Tony all the way from Scotland to VMI and then Tony met Amanda, who convinced him to stay in Lexington – and I am glad he did. Tony now works in admissions at W&L and is a regular on the Lexington “soccer scene.” Of course, since it’s Lexington, our “soccer scene” is not very large scene. I have known Tony for about 5 years and he is one of my favorite people on that soccer scene – he’s very competitive, yet hilarious and sarcastic while playing. Tony and Amanda have two adorable daughters – Cora and Louise. Tony is such a great father – its so fun to watch him with his children. So, now to the impetus for starting the tournament.
This past fall, Tony told those of us that play soccer with him that he had just been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS. As you can imagine, the news was shocking, but then the weight of what he was saying fully set in. There is so little known about ALS, and then for someone so young to be diagnosed, just means that even less is known. Tony has taken the diagnosis in stride and is handling it with more strength and positivity than I could even imagine. He is an inspiration just to be around. One of Tony’s quotes that still makes me laugh – after a trip up to his ALS doctor at Hopkins, Tony noted, “how amazing is this – the top ALS specialist in the US is in-network! How lucky is that!” It still amazes me that he is able to see the humor and good in the world. I do not think that I would be able to see myself as “lucky” in the same circumstances as Tony.
So, organizing a soccer tournament to help Tony and his family was a no-brainer. And naming it the Conway Cup was the easiest decision we made. And we wanted to get the first one up and running quickly so we would have a great chance for Tony to be able to fully contribute and potentially participate on the field. So, we set a date for February 18th and set to work of pulling a tournament together in less than 2 months. We were hopeful that enough teams would register to create a viable tournament…and we were shocked…32 teams registered for the tournament. The gift of the tournament was the weather – not sure who we need to thank for the 60 degree day, but it was amazing in the middle of February.
We hosted the event at Washington and Lee’s two turf fields. It’s a great setup to run the tournament from the Wilson Field plaza and it was great timing in that both lacrosse teams were away and it was the first weekend of Feb break on campus. So, most folks were down in New Orleans celebrating Mardi Gras…and the fields were available. It was a 6v6 tournament, so we were able to run two games at a time on each turf field.
The best moment of the tournament was getting to see Tony play. He took to the field with the adult premier team that Erin Hutchinson put together – it was a team comprised of admissions’ office staffers. Tony jumped in with the team and scored a hat-trick (3 goals) in the span of about 15 minutes. It was truly awesome to see.
There were so many people that came together and made the Conway Cup a success – we had great sponsors in the community, volunteers, folks that donated food and services. There was a committee of folks that worked out the details, but the Conway Cup would not have been such a success without the leadership of the current VMI soccer players and, Richie Rose, current VMI men’s soccer coach. The teams were like the rest of us, anxious to help in some way. They did all the setup, ran errands, the concession stands, ran the clock, etc. – everything that a tournament needs to run well. We also had a good number of VMI cadets working off penalty tours – and they were also amazing – they did their jobs with the same energy and spirit of those that know Tony. All of this generosity allowed almost all of the money we brought in to go towards Tony’s medical expenses with any additional funds to go towards helping his family; specifically his girls go to college. All in all, we were able to raise about $13,000 for Tony and his family.
While it was not the best reason to start a tournament, it was a wonderful to have a tournament. Everyone gathering together for the tournament showed incredible support and love that we all have for Tony and his family – and that is a great reason to gather together around the passion of Tony’s life, soccer.
For more information about Tony and his battle with ALS: www.dontshrink.com
For more information on the Conway Cup www.conwaycup.com – and stay tuned for next year’s cup!