Torrey Pines boys lacrosse helping others off field

TPHS lacrosse
Omar Carlon (center) is all smiles after being adopted by the Torrey Pines High boys lacrosse team and head coach Jono Zissi (second from left) through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.

(Anna Scipione)

Falcons first high school to adopt 3 youngsters battling cancer


Twelve games into the season, No. 1-ranked Torrey Pines High’s boys lacrosse team wanted to add a new player to its roster. The Falcons even held a news conference last month to introduce the player.

At 5 feet, 98 pounds, Omar Carlon is small as high school lacrosse players go. At 12, he’s a little young, too.

Torrey Pines adopted Carlon as part of the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, a nationwide program that pairs children battling cancer with college and high school sports teams.

“There’s no chemotherapy, no radiation treatment or clinical trial drug better than love, support and friendship,” said Friends of Jaclyn President Denis Murphy, who flew from New York for Carlon’s adoption.

Omar was diagnosed with bone cancer in his right leg on Jan. 10, 2020.

“When doctors put you in a conference room, it’s for nothing good,” said Omar’s mother, Nilsa Carlon.

“When the doctor introduced herself as an oncologist, I broke down then and there.”

Sixty-seven days later, the Carlons were told the cancer had spread to Omar’s lungs.

“They told us they didn’t know how much longer Omar was going to live,” said Nilsa. “The doctor’s exact words were, ‘Go home with Omar and make memories.’”

Chemotherapy stopped growth of the tumors, which later were surgically removed. On April 8 of last year, surgery was performed to try to save Omar’s leg. But between the cancer and chemotherapy, his leg had become so brittle that his femur fractured during the surgery.

On June 16, 2021, Omar, who loved to play football, had his right leg amputated at the hip.

Said Nilsa, “It was devastating.”

Led by head coach Jono Zissi, who was told by a childhood friend about Friends of Jaclyn, Torrey Pines’ lacrosse program had already adopted two children battling cancer. The first, Jose Montano, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2011.

The Falcons adopted Jose the next year. Across three seasons, the Montanos would drive 33 miles from their home just north of the border to Torrey Pines to watch practices and attend games.

The team attended birthday parties with Jose, took the family to play laser tag and visited him at Rady’s Children’s Hospital when he underwent chemotherapy.

“When they arrived at the hospital, my son’s face would suddenly change,” said Jose’s mother, Veronica. “He would be so happy they were with him.”

Jose died on April 13, 2014. He was 13.

Nineteen months later, having grieved for Jose’s passing, Zissi wanted the team to reach out to another family.

They adopted 6-year-old Irving Goodman, who was battling rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks muscles.

Like with Jose, Irving and his family attended games and practices and grew close to the team. Now 13, Irving has been cancer-free for six years.

Said Joe Goodman, Irving’s father, “The Torrey Pines lacrosse team has always been a very positive, wonderful, supportive, loving environment for us.”

Omar Carlon became the 988th pediatric cancer patient to be adopted by a team through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation. Torrey Pines is the first high school program to adopt three children.

Jose Montano’s mother, father, Irving and Joe Goodman attended Omar’s adoption.

Regarding the impact he wants the adoption to have on his players, Zissi said, “The world is bigger than themselves. What are you doing as Torrey Pines lacrosse players to help other people?”

Omar is one of six children, ages 13, 12, 7, 5, 3 and 7 months. The family lives in Wildemar, 60 northeast minutes from Torrey Pines. Since Omar’s adoption, the family has made the two-hour round trip to attend seven games and three practices.

He sits on the bench during games, talking to players. The players often text him.

“They’re nice to me,” said Omar. “I like talking to them.”

“He’s always referring to them as ‘the boys,’” said Nilsa. “He looks at them as friends.”

“He’s a super chill guy,” said Torrey Pines sophomore midfielder S.J. Dohrenwend. “You look at Omar, just that smile on his face. We feel that’s his trademark. It makes me want to work harder. Things can change so fast. You don’t want to take anything for granted.”

Despite all Omar has been through — chemotherapy, radiation, 13 surgeries, months in the hospital, an amputated leg — his smile is ever present.

“He’s a very strong kid,” said Nilsa. “We thought we were going to lose him. He’s a trooper, never gives up. He’s always smiling and I’m really proud of him. He’s my miracle child.”

The Carlons received fantastic news last week. The latest tests showed no evidence of cancer. Omar’s port, which is used to administer drugs, will be removed soon.

“He didn’t say much,” said Nilsa. “But his smile, it gets bigger when he hears those things.”

“His positive attitude is a reminder to our guys to practice gratitude,” said Zissi. “Realize how lucky you are.”

Talk to Torrey Pines’ players and they’ll tell you they benefit as much from their relationship with Omar as he does.

“It’s a two-way street,” said senior defender Brycen Monjazeb.

“We know we’re making Omar’s day, but he also makes ours.

“With what he’s going through, choosing to support us, that makes us want to fight harder.”

Norcross is a freelance writer.