(Courtesy of LifeTown) Ryan Warter was a beloved young man who dreamed of one day being able to visit, shop and hang out in LifeTown. When the football field was first opened, Ryan was right there, walking arm in arm with Jets player Jeremy Clark as he crossed the field to make a touchdown.
Unfortunately, Ryan didn’t get to see the rest of LifeTown open. However, his photo with the Jets has gone viral and brought joy to many who saw it.
“The picture became the face of the field,” said his older brother Zach during the opening of the field. “It perfectly embodied Ryan, but it represented something bigger.”
That “something bigger,” is the idea and importance of “Doing Happy,” a motto that has guided the family, their friends and many others.
Knowing how happy Ryan was on the field that day, his family, the extended Warter-Cash family, decided to name the field in his memory. Ryan’s brother Jake took up fundraising for the dedication and creation of a Football Circle program as part of his bar mitzvah project, while Zach designed the “Ryan’s Field” sign that hangs over to the entrance.
“Having the field, the one place Ryan was able to experience at LifeTown, means the world to our family,” said Ryan’s mother, Barbara Warter Cash. “Ryan lived everyday with pure joy and an open heart. Despite his challenges, Ryan always found ways to make happy moments in everyday life. In essence, he was our teacher of the lesson on how to achieve happiness—to feel happy you must ‘do happy.’”
Family and friends gathered at LifeTown on “Black Friday,” forgoing the traditional after-Thanksgiving shopping, to dedicate the NFL/Jets football field as “Ryan’s Field” and to “Do Happy.”
And “Do Happy,” they did, as the clouds broke and rays of sun peeked out and young and old took to the football field to pass the ball, run and catch.
“It was surreal to see how many people came out to support us. There was a sea of family, friends, town council and community members,” Ryan’s mother said. “The skies were cloudy, raining on and off, very similar to the day Ryan first played on the field, but as soon as the sign was unveiled, the sun broke through the clouds and literally there was an energy shining down upon us from above.
“You could feel the unity of people coming together to ‘Do Happy,’” she continued. “Every time another child was paired up with a friend to play and whenever I looked out on the field to see children and adults of all ages and abilities laughing and playing and having fun, I knew the field was being used exactly what it was meant to.”
“This dedication celebrates the Warter family slogan of ‘Do Happy!’” said LifeTown CEO and Co-Founder Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum. “As we come out of the pandemic, their positive energy is so important and we believe that it will translate into positive interactions on Ryan’s Field and beyond. We are thankful that we are able share Ryan’s dream of playing on the JETS/NFL field at LifeTown with all the children at LifeTown.”
Ryan’s Field was made possible thanks to the generosity of many in the community and with generous support from the NFL, New York Jets and United Way. In addition to being a place where kids of all abilities can come and play, it will host LifeTown’s new Football Circle program, which will be held twice yearly to start.
Laying out his vision for the program, Jake Warter, who is now a volunteer with Friendship Circle, said, “For this special event, friends from LifeTown will be able to participate in a fun program of football drills, non-contact fun play, and enjoy time alongside members” of the Livingston High School Football Team.
He credited his friend Sam Davidson for raising money from his bar mitzvah to help buy the equipment for the field, while thanking Dave Cohen through And One Hoops and GSE Football for their support, as well as Joe Di Corso and Jay Lovenheim and the Junior Lancer Football team.
“I grew up being involved with Friendship Circle and LifeTown. As a young child, I used to hang alongside Ryan at programs and shadow Zach as he volunteered. Now that I am old enough, I have been volunteering on my own,” said Jake. “I love spending time with Ben Tepper, one of Ryan’s best friends. It is awesome to see how many kids are able to experience all the amazing things to do here!”
During the dedication, Zach recalled how Ryan loved watching the Jets and especially the “touchdown dance,” and how he had the chance to do it himself on the field at LifeTown.
“We know that life is not always easy and things happen that are beyond our control or that are not the way we want it to be,” said Zach at the dedication, “But even though we can’t always control things like the weather or chronic pain, we can make choices to take control and action for ourselves. By doing something we can affect our feelings. It is a simple message and a contagious one as well.”