Devon Marie Lam enjoyed listening to Alicia Keys, and watching Wiggles videos. She loved Legos and her tea sets and throwing balls at her dad. She had favorite books read to her each night: The Very Hungry Caterpillar . . . The Very Busy Spider . . . The Rainbow Fish.
Devon could beat her mom at Dora Candy Land, "fair and square," as her father put it. She had a crib but never slept in it. That was for her stuffed animals.
Her grandma bought her a trampoline, but she preferred to use it as a hammock.
At her Mah Mah's house, she would play marbles on her high chair and throw balls at the stairs.
Devon liked to laugh with her friends. She had best friends - her big sisters, she called them. They played lacrosse, for Temple University.
When 5-year-old Devon first came to North Broad Street and met the Temple women's lacrosse team early in 2008, she sat on a table with her head down, avoiding eye contact.
Her father, also meeting the team, explained Devon's medical history. The brain hemorrhage that led to the discovery and removal of a tumor. The chemotherapy and stem-cell rescue and six weeks of radiation. Through the hospital stays, the injections and MRIs, the medical and homeopathic remedies - and then the return of the tumor.
All that medical talk . . . who could blame Devon for keeping her head down.
"Just looking at her life up until that point, anyone who was a stranger was a doctor or somebody examining her," Danny Lam said. "She was probably very, very frightened."
Temple's team had been matched with Devon as part of Friends of Jaclyn, a new program in which college sports teams adopt children with brain tumors. The program's founder, Denis Murphy, had started it after his own daughter, Jaclyn, was adopted by Northwestern's NCAA champion women's lacrosse team. That relationship continues.
After Temple players met Devon and gave her a miniature lacrosse stick, the group walked over to watch a gymnastics meet in the same building, McGonigle Hall. A Temple player offered Devon her hand.
"She didn't say anything, but she was eager to hold my hand and walk down the hall," Nicholle St. Pierre recalled.
Her parents were touched by the sight.
"She had a lot of deficits, serious balance issues," her father said. "She had to relearn how to walk; she also lost hearing in her left ear, lost high frequency in her right ear. She had to relearn how to eat, how to swallow, how to talk. Her fine motor skills needed serious work. She was coming along pretty well."
"She saw we weren't going to poke her with needles or do any scans," said Brittney Hoffman, another Temple player who already had made a connection, leaving a slew of messages on Devon's Caring Bridge Web page before that first meeting.
The lacrosse stick was new to her.
"She didn't really get it - she held it completely horizontal, kind of really dainty, really loosely," Hoffman said.
Until that day, through all her medical travails, "Devon never, ever threw a temper tantrum," her father said.
Until that day, when it was time to go.
"She was crying, saying, 'No, no, no,' " Danny Lam said. "It was gut-wrenching to leave."
Temple opened its 2008 spring season the next weekend. Danny and Angela Lam promised their daughter they would come back for the game.
"That whole week, she held her lacrosse stick," her father said.
The Lams lived in Middle Village, Queens, more than a two-hour drive from Temple's campus. But when the Owls played that spring, Devon and her parents usually were there. They even made it to some road games.
"When you have a child with a terminal illness and you can give her laughter and friendship, I would drive 10, 15 hours - 21/2 hours was nothing," Danny Lam said.
When Temple competed in the 2008 Atlantic Ten tournament at the University of Massachusetts - and won it - the Lams were there.
"It was freezing and windy, and Brittney [Hoffman] held her close and they were jumping up and down making the craziest loud noises in unison," said Angela Lam, Devon's mother. "Brittney also did a little dance that Devon would try to emulate. That was always adorable since Devon had poor balance. She looked like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz."
Brittney Sue Hoffman was the most demonstrative of the Owls players, a captain last spring. She buddied up to Devon, who responded immediately.
One day that spring, Devon had a long MRI to study her brain and spinal cord. As soon as Devon came out of sedation, her first words were, "I'm OK, Brittney Sue."
Devon had signed on for a joyride of a season for Temple, ending with a berth in the NCAA tournament.
"You can see from the pictures after the championship, there's no way to separate out the journey to winning that A-10 championship and Devon," said Bonnie Rosen, Temple's coach. "They're just one and the same."
When Devon went to Temple's games, "I don't think she understood winning or losing," Danny Lam said. "Devon was kind of like a parrot. We'd say, 'Go TU!' She'd say, 'Go TU!' One game at Penn, we were a little too close to Penn's parent section. They were yelling, 'Go Penn!' She belted out, 'Go Penn!' "
Near the end of the season, Temple held a game dedicated to Friends of Jaclyn. Devon was the star that day.
"We had this tunnel [of players], she was able to hold the lacrosse stick up vertically, with strength, and she was able to walk through this whole tunnel of 25 girls and three coaches," Brittney Hoffman said. "She wouldn't have been able to do that in the beginning."
"She learned how to walk and wanted to learn how to run because she saw her big sisters running," Danny Lam said. "She learned how to breathe and scream and belch out - all these intangibles that you can't measure. The beauty of it, it gave my daughter a chance to be a child again. Up until that time, she wasn't a child. She was a patient."
If Hollywood had gotten hold of this story, maybe Devon would have grown up to be a champion lacrosse player.
This wasn't Hollywood.
The Lams weren't blind to the realities of their daughter's condition, but after a year's worth of progress, they got devastating news, just before last Thanksgiving.
"We found out Devon wasn't going to make it past two weeks," Danny Lam said.
Lam was honest relaying the news to Temple's lacrosse team. Two vans full of players drove up to New York's Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital.
"You could tell when we walked in, she wasn't able to move a lot," said Nicholle St. Pierre, who had held Devon's hand that first day, and then grew closer to her. "Her eyes would shift when we came in the room. She wouldn't move them. She couldn't do any facial movements, but her eyes never left you."
Devon, not yet 6, died Dec. 5, 2008. She was the first child adopted under the Friends of Jaclyn program to die.
Dealing with his own grief, Devon's father also saw that his family wasn't alone. In the months following, Danny Lam made a point of e-mailing Temple players, telling them to stay positive and focused. He and his wife made it to as many of Temple's games last season as he could, he said, to let them know that Devon wasn't there in person, but she was with them in spirit. Some players told the Lams of their guilt in not getting to know Devon better, how they thought there would be more time.
For the Owls, there were some struggles. Anger, and guilt at the anger, feeling no right to be angry when they had known her such a short time. They weren't family, after all. Did they have a right to grieve as if they were?
"Our team just wasn't the same anymore," said St. Pierre, now a junior. "It was just as if we lost a member of our team. . . . Not only did our team physically lose Devon, but mentally, people no longer brought her up. We used to have a life-size poster of her to bring to games. That wasn't brought to all of them. I don't know if it was hard for people to accept. . . . Devon brought so much happiness to our team, and then it was taken away from us."
Hollywood would have at least scripted Temple for another winning season after Devon's death. Real life didn't work that way. Missing a lot of key players from the 2008 season, the team struggled in 2009, losing its first 10 games and finishing 4-12. Nobody suggested Devon's death was responsible for that.
"Looking back, I think that did set us off in a direction that made last year much more about growing as people and a team and less about what we were able to accomplish on game day," said Bonnie Rosen, Temple's coach, who had first signed on to the program, explaining to her players that this couldn't be just a token gesture.
"Since there were no signs [of Devon's condition worsening], the sudden change was really hard," Rosen said. "For me, being a coach, being in charge of our team as they went through it, was a pretty awesome responsibility. Because for some people, it was the first time dealing with death. For others, it was way too much death that they'd had in their families."
Hoffman admitted to being devastated.
"I never considered Devon to be terminal. I had no clue of the statistics," Hoffman said. "If I had spoken to Angela or Danny . . . but I was in complete denial. Kids getting a brain tumor before 2, the odds are bad of reaching 7. I'd been saying, 'Oh, well, maybe after I graduate, I'll move to New York, work with Devon or kids like her.' "
Right after Devon died, "I didn't want to talk to anybody," Hoffman said. "My mom and I are very close. I would get so angry at her, to see her cry [about Devon]. I would get angry at her. Danny would call and say, 'You have to keep doing what you're doing.' I was just going through the motions. I was there, but I wasn't there."
Dealing with Devon's death, Danny Lam has become more active in Friends of Jaclyn, often appearing with Denis Murphy at "adoptions," which now include programs at other local schools, including St. Joseph's and La Salle.
"I want to share my experience, so another family can understand," Lam said. "I tell them, 'Honor your child. Do something and honor your child.' "
After Devon died, Danny Lam said it would have been easy to walk away - had his daughter not been involved with Friends of Jaclyn.
"I realize now I have 24 or 30 teammates who are looking to me for answers for how to move forward in life," he said.
Lam talks to adopting teams now "about the mortality issue. That has to be something they understand and address."
"It was a serious eye-opener, as far as, 'Wow, what are we doing to these teams?' Are we going to devastate these teams?' " he said.
At Temple, nobody would take anything back. Players say they cherish their time with Devon and their memories. As the team gathered for its annual banquet Sept. 12, awards handed out included most valuable attacker and most valuable defender. But the centerpiece of the banquet, the final award, had a new name - the Devon Marie Lam "Team Means More" Award.
"It goes to a player on our team who embodies all the traits Devon had," said Rosen, the coach. "Her amazing spirit, her courage, her ability to bring people together."
Before the presentation, the room grew quiet as a video appeared commemorating Devon's life and her time with their team. Players couldn't help but smile watching Devon goofing around for the camera and shouting, "Go TU!"
"How much can a 5-year-old really teach you? Everything," said Hoffman, a cowinner of the Devon Marie Lam award voted by her teammates, along with her close friend Lauren Carey. "The way she talked, the way she walked, how happy she was. She could just bring a smile to anybody's face without even trying."
Danny and Angela Lam made sure Temple players understood what they all had given Devon - a childhood, just one compressed into months.
Owls players and coaches traveled to Queens on a bus for Devon's funeral.
"After the Mass, we went to the burial," said Bridget McMullen, who graduated last year and designed a T-shirt honoring Devon that the team wore this year. "Following the long line of friends and family of the Lams, we said our condolences and received a coin and a candy. We were told that the candy must be eaten to remember the sweet memory and the coin was to be spent on something to bring happiness."
When Devon was buried, a letter was put into her casket, so that "whomever would be showing her around in Heaven would be properly prepared."
It told about Alicia Keys and the Wiggles videos and the hammock and throwing balls at the stairs from her high chair.
At the end, the note, written by her father, also told of how she would miss her friends at Temple.
"Daddy actually says that I will have the best seat in the house for every game now," the letter from Devon said. "I hope that still means I will be able to go onto the field with them when they do their stretching. They are silly, but that is why I love them so much."
Devon was buried wearing her Temple sweatshirt.
"That's all she wanted to wear," her father said.