NEENAH, Wis. (AP) — There are moments in sports where wins seem destined by some outside force, and their meaning goes beyond a trophy.
One such game stood between the Bergstrom Bad Boys Junior Little League team and a championship Aug. 4.
The group of 9- and 10-year-olds battled through the losers' bracket to win three straight tournament games, and should have taken the field to warm-up before facing the undefeated State Farm Insurance team.
The Bergstrom Bad Boys huddled around a minivan behind the outfield wall instead. A teammate most of them had never met sat in the car to keep warm; a teammate they dedicated their season to.
Nine-year-old Sean Johnson was diagnosed in March with osteosarcoma, a tumor embedded in bone. Parents Erin and Don signed the bright, smiling boy up for Junior Little League before a trip to the doctor turned their lives upside down.
Sean underwent surgery in June at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee to remove the tumor, who Sean named Throwg. Throwg nestled himself in Sean's right leg, and doctors removed part of Sean's leg along with Throwg.
Through it all, Sean stays positive. His mom, Erin, said the only time he cried was when he found out he'd lose part of his leg, and even then he saw the silver lining.
"The doctors told him it wouldn't be his whole leg, but a portion. From then on he accepted what was going to happen with this rotationplasty before his dad and I did," Erin said.
"Sean has fully embraced what happened to him. He's never said, 'Why me?' It's always, 'When can I get my new leg? I want to be a kid.'"
In the coming months Sean will be fitted for a prosthetic leg and finish chemotherapy treatment. Sean's illness kept him from playing for the Bergstrom Bad Boys, but the team's coaches kept in touch, updating the Johnsons on their season.
While not physically present, Sean was never far from the players' minds, coach Shawn Carver said. After huddles the group chose between chants of "1-2-3 Bergstrom Bad Boys!" and "1-2-3 Sean Johnson!"
Carver hoped the Johnsons would make it to a few games, but with Sean's chemotherapy schedule, it didn't work out — until Aug. 4, behind an outfield wall.
Erin still tears up when she describes Sean's encounter with the team.
"Sean was so happy, just all smiles," Erin said. "He loved it. He thought it was the neatest thing. They gave him a ball signed by everyone and a jersey. It was a really special thing they did for him."
The Bergstrom Bad Boys came back from a 2-5 start during the regular season to finish second. They lost their first game of the tournament, only to battle through to the championship . and win.
Carver knew at the beginning of the season his players had the potential to win it all. What he couldn't have predicted was the impact a 9-year-old fighting cancer would have on his teammates.
"We won the final game in the bottom of the last inning with one out and our No. 8 hitter at the plate," Carver said. "It was the best day I had in baseball.
"When they walk away from this season, they won't remember the trophy they chuck in a box somewhere. They'll remember how they helped their friend."