On the surface, it was a junior varsity softball game, played on a Jersey City Little League field. It’s not exactly headline-making material.
But a closer look shows that it was truly a special event, remembering a truly special young lady.
Just two years ago, Victoria Beckner was a vibrant, alive, beautiful teenager who loved to play softball and basketball – and was very good at both. She had just graduated from Our Lady of Mercy grammar school in the Greenville section of Jersey City and was all set to attend McNair Academic in the fall. She had her entire life in front of her.
“She could play anywhere,” said Victoria’s father, James Beckner. “She could pitch, play the infield, catch even. She did everything. Softball and basketball were her thing.”
In the summer of 2008, Victoria attended a softball camp to get ready for high school softball. She slid into second base during one game and came up limping.
“After that happened, her knee started to swell,” said Jeanne Beckner, Victoria’s mother. “We didn’t think much of it at the time. She complained that it was bothering her. We took her to a doctor and they said at first it was probably a torn meniscus.”
The Beckner family went on their annual vacation to Wildwood Crest that August and Victoria’s knee pain worsened.
“She couldn’t walk at all,” James Beckner said. “We had to rent her a wheelchair to get around.”
James and Jeanne took their daughter to the emergency room in Cape May to see if they could give her relief from her pain.
“They thought maybe it was a calcium deposit behind her knee,” James Beckner said. “No one thought what it was.”
A specialist gave the Beckners the bad news. It was cancer. She had osteoscarcoma, bone cancer behind her knee. Victoria was immediately transported to Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital on August 8.
“She never left the hospital,” her father softly said.
By the time Victoria Beckner had reached Sloan Kettering, she was already in stage four of her cancer. It had already spread to other parts of her young body.
“They operated on her right away, but that never stopped her,” James Beckner said. “She fought like heck for nine months, but she lost her battle May 4 of last year.”
Victoria Beckner was just 14 years old, less than a month shy of her 15th birthday. When other teenagers are preparing for the rest of their lives, Victoria’s was over.
“Not a day goes by where we don’t think of her,” James Beckner said.
Last week, many of Victoria’s friends and former teammates remembered her as well. Some people who didn’t even know her even paused to reflect to remember her.
Michelle Poznanski is the junior varsity softball coach at McNair Academic. She never met Victoria, but heard of the heart wrenching tale.
“I knew that Victoria was accepted into McNair,” Poznanski said. “I also knew that she came from Our Lady of Mercy, where I came from. I knew she played for the College Little League softball program, where I played as well. So we wanted to do something special to remember Victoria.”
So Poznanski organized a week of games to be played on the same field that Victoria Beckner once patrolled as a player. It was the Victoria Beckner Memorial Week, with McNair welcoming the JV teams from Memorial, Holy Family Academy, Dickinson, University Charter, and St. Dominic Academy to College Little League field for games, all honoring McNair’s fallen angel.
There were T-shirts made and pins with Victoria’s uniform No. 15. College Little League graciously donated their field to honor their former All-Star.
“All the other coaches and teams were so interested in playing,” Poznanski said. “They thought it was a great idea. There is a lot of emotion here. People from OLM, McNair, her friends from the neighborhood, they’re all here. We just wanted to spread the special spirit of Victoria outside of McNair.”
Victoria Beckner would be a sophomore at McNair Academic. She would have turned 16 years old later this month.
But her spirit lived on last week in a big way, with the players, the coaches, the spectators.
“This was a beautiful thing they did,” James Beckner said. “The kids at McNair have been fantastic. Every kid sent her a card and they didn’t even know her. They sold bracelets to raise money. They presented her with an autographed softball in the hospital. It was very special.”
“She never went to the school, but they embraced her,” Jeanne Beckner said.
One of Victoria’s best friends, Nicole Martucci, played for St. Dominic Academy on Tuesday in the game honoring her pal. She donned No. 15 to remember her best friend.
“She was a beautiful friend and I knew it was going to be hard to play in the game, because I miss her so,” Martucci said. “She loved softball so much and loved playing here. We’re all here to remember her. Of course, I’m dedicating the game to her. She’s still always with me.”
Jeanne Beckner was so thankful for the love that everyone showed for her daughter.
“That’s what keeps me going,” she said. “People keep telling me about the things she did and said, how truly wonderful she was. I just know that she’s looking down and watching this and loving it.”
“Tons of people still love her,” James Beckner said. “Others who didn’t know her are moved by her. She touched more people that we could ever imagine.”
The Beckners’ younger daughter, Sarah, is an eighth grader and a softball player as well. She will head to McNair in the fall. Sarah Beckner wears her sister’s uniform number with pride. She’ll carry on the legacy that her sister created.
“Every time I step up at bat, I think of my sister,” Sarah Beckner said. “I think it’s great that there are so many people who would do this for Victoria. It was a great thing.”
James Beckner is a milkman in New York and has done that job for the last 32 years. He says that he constantly gets signs, like finding pennies in the street, because Victoria liked to collect pennies.
“Since she passed, I can’t begin to count the number of pennies I’ve found during the day,” James Beckner said.
Victoria also liked to play marbles and one day, the family cat was spotted pushing a marble across the floor. That was another sign.
“It’s little things like that that make me feel like she’s still around us all the time,” Jeanne Beckner said.
Poznanski said that she would like to make the Victoria Beckner Memorial Week an annual event, so that hundreds of other young girls, much like Victoria, will get to know and understand how truly special she was.
McNair Academic has already told the Beckner family that two years from now, Victoria will still graduate with her class.
Maybe that’s the biggest sign of how special Victoria was – and still is. After all, she was able to get JV softball some major play time in a local sports column.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.