Family of Harvard freshman seriously injured in debut football game says ‘his spirit is strong’

Ben Abercrombie
Ben Abercrombie. –Provided

A campaign started in the hometown of a Harvard freshman who suffered a serious spinal cord injury during his debut game with the university’s football team has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the hospitalized player and his family.

Cornerback Ben Abercrombie, from Hoover, Alabama, didn’t get up from the ground after making a sideline tackle during the second quarter of Harvard’s season opener September 16 against the University of Rhode Island. He was rushed to Rhode Island Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery to repair a fracture and take pressure off his spinal cord.

“Ben is currently on ventilator and has no feeling in his arms and legs but we are hopeful that will change and improve everyday as he heals,” his parents wrote on a CaringBridge page set up for their son.

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A spokeswoman for Rhode Island Hospital told Boston.com Tuesday that the Hoover native remains in critical condition.

Ben Abercrombie during the game against the University of Rhode Island where he was severely injured making a tackle. —Provided

“Our hearts go out to Ben and his family right now, and they have our full support,” Harvard Athletics Director Bob Scalise and Football Head Coach Tim Murphy said in a statement following his injury. “We are doing all that we can to aid in his recovery, and he has received tremendous care from the doctors at the hospital.”

Chris Cole, a family friend of the Abercrombies who coached the 18-year-old when he played youth baseball, said that while Abercrombie hasn’t regained movement in his extremities yet, “the doctors hope” he will return to “full health.”

“He’s basically recovering on a daily basis,” Cole told Boston.com.

(Update: On Thursday night, Abercrombie’s father, Marty, wrote on CaringBridge that his son “has started the weaning process from the ventilator” and is “regaining some feeling in his arms and legs.”)

Cole said that as soon as news of the Harvard player’s injury reached Abercrombie’s hometown of Hoover, a city of over 80,000 just south of Birmingham, there was immediate sadness and sorrow.

“Then it just immediately shifted toward how can we help this wonderful family, what can we do,” he said. “The community support and outreach and the community initiatives have just been unbelievable and overwhelming.”

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Those initiatives have ranged from having a bucket for donations for the family at the Friday night football games to the city-wide “Stand UP for Ben” event organized by the Hoover Buccaneers  football team. As part of the Monday event, dozens of participating restaurants donated 10 percent of their total sales from the day to a fund set up for Abercrombie.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” Cole said of the event. “You really had a hard time getting in the doors, there were so many people jamming into restaurants to support Ben.”

The football team announced Thursday more than $30,000 was collected from the event.

Cole said it’s not just Abercrombie’s hometown that’s rallying for him —  neighboring communities are also raising money at their football games.

“We have again been amazed by the compassion and show of support by the Hoover community and all our neighbors in Alabama,” Marty Abercrombie wrote Tuesday on his son’s CaringBridge page. “We want to make sure Ben gets the best possible medical care possible and your efforts to raise funds will help ensure cost is not an issue during his battle for a full recovery.”

Cole described Abercrombie, who won two state football championships and one state baseball championship at Hoover, as a “the definition of the student-athlete.”

“Here’s a young man, gifted enough athletically to play at the highest levels of high school football and baseball while at the same time he was able to score a tremendous ACT score and earn scholarships to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown,” Cole said. “He’s just a wonderful young man. He’s a hardworking and humble young man, and he gives 110 percent at everything he does, whether it’s mathematics or whether it’s athletics.”

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He described Abercrombie as a “gritty” and tough athlete, always one of the first on the field and one of the last to leave.

Abercrombie’s nickname while playing for Hoover was “Abs” because he did thousands of sit-ups each day, according to AL.com. And at Harvard, he’d already been given a new moniker for his persistent work ethic — “Badger-crombie.”

Ben Abercrombie with his parents, Sherri and Marty. —Provided

“He was in fantastic physical condition,” Cole said. “It’s hard to explain how such an injury can happen to such an elite athlete, such as Ben. I think that God just has a different plan for Ben.”

Hoover isn’t the only community coming together for Abercrombie. There’s also been an outpouring of support from his Harvard classmates and teammates.

Murphy and members of Harvard’s football team visited Abercrombie on Sunday to present their teammate with the game ball from their win over Brown.

Marty Abercrombie said in entries on CaringBridge that his son’s recovery “will be a long battle.”

“His spirit is strong and his main focus is on when he can eat and drink again,” he wrote. “He asks everyone that comes in his room for food!”

Cole said he has no doubt that the teen has “the perfect mindset” for the medical recovery ahead of him.

“Ben will apply the same fight and spirit to his medical recovery as he has to his academics and as he has to his athletics,” he said. “Ben will give this physical challenge 110 percent of his efforts to get healthy.”