Quony Cup: The hearts behind the tournament

It’s a story that encompasses the Colorado College spirit ­­–– a circle of tragedy, giving, comfort, and community. For recent graduates, it is a way to stay connected with the school, and to celebrate two classmates who died too young.

Chris Quon with his parents Diane and David. Photo courtesy of Toby Cohen.

Chris Quon with his parents Diane and David. Photo courtesy of Toby Cohen.

Four years ago, friends, teammates, family, and a zealous freshmen class gathered on Armstrong Quad for a 6v6 soccer tournament to commemorate the life of Chris Quon ‘09. Last year, the event became tribute to both Quon and his dear friend and lacrosse teammate, Evan Spirito ‘10.

There are few students walking campus who had the privilege of knowing Quon or Spirito. Quon graduated the spring before the matriculation of the current senior class, and died of a heart condition that September. Spirito graduated in December of 2010, and died the following November after a valiant three-year struggle with lung cancer. Both men were varsity athletes; Spirito was rostered on the men’s lacrosse team, and Quon was rostered on both the men’s lacrosse and soccer teams.

It’s hard to be a young person and have two people you went to college with die at such a young age. “It’s just not what’s supposed to happen,” Spirito’s father, Dr. Anthony Spirito said. “It’s not a typical way you think of graduating -  to be exposed to that right away.”

But on the other hand, the Quony Cup is an opportunity for their families, friends, teammates, and the community of Colorado College – the place they loved most – to have a blast together, celebrate the lives of these two young men, and raise money for a good cause: the American Cancer Society.

The 6v6 soccer tournament took shape as the Quony Cup after Quon’s death, but the tournament is actually a brainchild of Quon himself.

During Quon’s junior year he had an idea to hold a soccer tournament to raise money for cancer. Both of his grandfathers had battled the illness and the gregarious young athlete wanted to get a group of friends together to play soccer, drink beer, listen to music, and raise money for a good cause. And, so was born the “Answer to Cancer.”

“The Answer to Cancer to me is like Chris in a nutshell. It wasn’t supposed to be or turn into the Quony cup obviously, but basically Chris wanted to raise money for the American Cancer Society but at the same time it’s noteworthy that deep down he wanted to get people together to have a good time,” Toby Cohen ’10, Quon’s best friend, and driving force behind Quony Cup.

“I remember him running around like crazy, which was a great experience for him because he didn’t know how much red tape you have to go through to put on a fundraiser,” Quon’s mother, Diane Quon, said.

All proceeds from the event were donated to the American Cancer Society.

“It was not as big of a turn out as now, but he was really happy with it and everyone had a blast.” Cohen said.

Year one.

Spirito was diagnosed with lung cancer over Christmas break of his junior year, and took that spring semester off to undergo treatment.

“From the very beginning, Evan’s goal was to only miss that one semester. Once treatment stabilized, he was able to do that. It goes to show how important it was for him to be back at CC and to be with his teammates and friends.” Dr. Spirito said.

The news of Spirito’s diagnosis made Answer to Cancer even more significant for Quon. All of the proceeds from the second year of Quon’s tournament went to a fund at Penrose Hospital for young people living with cancer who had trouble paying for food and rent after hospital bills.

Year two.

Quon’s unabated drive to do – that is to be active, on and off the field; to be involved and to get others involved – was exemplary and honorable.

“He was the hardest worker, the best friend, and was always looking to give back without undo thought of gain. There was never anything in it for him; it was just part of who he is – giving back to CC, back to a good cause, and at the same time gathering people he loves, chilling out, playing soccer, and drinking beer.” Cohen said. “And it wasn’t that he scratched the surface with those things, he was the best in each.”

“I think Evan and Chris shared some of the same qualities. They were kind, gentle spirits, and loyal, caring friends. Evan supported Chris’ event before he was diagnosed with cancer and Chris supported Evan in many ways, including the cup, after Evan was diagnosed with cancer.” Dr. Spirito said.

Quon’s sudden death was devastating to the community, and put an end to Answer to Cancer. However, his friends, family, teammates, and coaches quickly came together to ensure that his legacy would continue to be a model for others to follow. The result is the Christopher Quon Foundation, and our beloved Quony Cup.

“His teammates wanted to do it. It showed us the bond they all had, as well as the positive influence Chris had had. The coaches – even with turnover in lacrosse – have been phenomenal.” Mrs. Quon said.

Soccer coach Horst Richardson has been at Colorado College for 47 years, and though lacrosse coach Jeff Woods is only in his second year, he knew Spirito from a young age, and acknowledged the perpetual relevance of what the tournament stands for.

“I see it touching a lot of people and extending the reach beyond who just knew Evan and Chris. It’s really important to keep talking about it, to promote the event, and to know what it’s for. It’s well beyond just a soccer tournament,” Woods said. “I think it’s important for our guys to know who Evan and Chris were, even if they didn’t know them personally.”

Logistically, putting the event together is demanding and exhaustive. The Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC), is responsible for organizing the event, and the commitment is year-round.

“We met a week after the event last year to have a conference call to see what we did right, what we could do better, and to look toward scheduling for this year,” SAAC member Marika Viragh said.  “We had to make sure a lot of logistics were solidified before Christmas break in terms of reserving fields, audio equip, getting word out to alumni, and asking for donations.”

It speaks to the spirit of both men that enthusiasm for the event has not wavered.

“The deaths of Evan and Chris may have resonated more with the athletic community than the general community, but I think any chance for everyone to get together and collaborate is special here.” Viragh said.

“To me, this year is so important because this is the first year that no one knows Chris, and the fact that it is still on campus and going on is what Chris would have wanted and why we’ve put so much effort into it.” Cohen said.

Next year, however, is a whole other ball game, as there won’t be any students that knew either athlete personally. But Coach Woods’ words resonate, as it is well beyond just a soccer tournament.

“The day we found out about Chris’ passing was after we lost to Trinity in overtime. I remember [coach] Horst came up, he was already in tears, and said, ‘What I’m about to tell you is way bigger than what happened on this soccer field.’ I hadn’t even heard the name before he told us, but seeing how emotional [senior teammates] Chris Ellis, Trevor Cobb, David VanSicklen were. I just knew instantly how much Chris meant to all of them. I was stoked on the idea that there was going to be a soccer tournament, and a way to get everyone involved and aware that capitalized community at CC.” said Daniel Wright, SAAC member and senior soccer player.

The anticipation for Quony Cup is at its height as the Quon and Spirito families, along with alumni and students alike, travel from all over the country to celebrate this weekend. People return to campus to play in the cup, to party, to remember Quon and Spirito’s love for life, and to raise money for cancer research. It’s an admirable way to deal with such devastating loss.

The event has continued to grow with every passing year, and though there are rumors that this will be the fourth and final Quony Cup held on campus, the response from the Colorado College community is overwhelmingly positive and hopeful for the event to revisit Armstrong Quad.

“It certainly should stay on campus, and it could continue in its current form or it could evolve into something bigger in conjunction with other sporting events,” Coach Richardson said. “With all of the alumni in town, it could be a real Quony weekend.”

In its fourth year of planning, the Quony Cup has received direct attention from the American Cancer Society.

“Before the check was sent, we weren’t sure if [the American Cancer Society] was aware of where the money was coming from. This last year we really reached out to ACS and in return, the director reached out to CC to understand the Quony Cup story.” Mrs. Quon said.

If you ask anyone about Chris Quon, they will tell you he was the kind of guy who would walk into a room and you’d immediately liked him.

“He would put you at ease; he just kind of pulsated with life. He was kind of a suave kid,” Richardson said. “He had this, ‘bring it on,’ attitude. No hurdle was too big for him to jump over. We were all fortunate to have known him, and we miss him. I think these previous Quony Cups and the support he receives through the cup will make him smile wherever he is.”

And anyone you ask is just as complimentary of Spirito. He shared the same selfless desire to do, and the same fire for life. Even in his final days, he was the same upstanding guy who had become loved by everyone he met.

“A few weeks before Evan died, I told Evan that he would always be remembered. I asked him if there was anything special he wanted his mother and I to do and he said, ‘donate money to Chris’ Foundation.’” Dr. Spirito said.

“When we heard Evan passed away and would have the Quony Cup in honor of both of them, I could just see Evan and Chris smiling to be together this way.” Mrs. Quon said. “I think what is special is his heart, and that’s what I see with Evan and all of you students. You know, you have your priorities right.”

In the wake of loss, we all prevail by rallying around a celebration of life, soccer, beer, and friends.

“One of our last conversations that I’ll always remember was the week before I lost Chris, he had just received a copy of the letter from [Penrose] thanking them for their money, and I just remember how happy he was to see how much he had helped others. I remember telling him, more than anything, ‘whatever job you have, however much money you earn, the most important thing is something like this; knowing you can help others in your heart.’” Mrs. Quon said.

Clearly, both men were honored and respected by their teammates and friends, and were on their way to do great things as influential and leading citizens. Quon and Spirito had the necessary tools to start off their lives well and vigorously, and they simply loved life. Thus, it is so devastating to have lost them so early.

“It’s a fitting memorial for a former student athlete who certainly left his mark at Colorado College not only [because] of his soccer and lacrosse athletic skills, but because of the relationships he was able to build with his fellow students,” Richardson said.

“It was always awe-inspiring to see all they did, whether as a brother, son, athlete, or friend,” Cohen said. “They were able to balance so much and go above and beyond all expectations.”

Quony Cup will be held on Armstrong Quad on Saturday, May 6. It’s not too late to get a team together and sign up, but if you can’t attend, please show your support by making a donation or buying a Quony Cup tee or tank! There will be live music, food, drinking, a video booth, soccer, and, of course, good company. All proceeds will be donated to the American Cancer Society.

Katy Stetson

Sports Editor

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