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Francis W. Parker Soccer Standout Danny McGarvey Tackles Tourette's Head On

By Justin Breen | November 1, 2013 7:48am
 Francis W. Parker junior Danny McGarvey, a member of the Colonels' boys soccer team, has Tourette Syndrome.
Danny McGarvey
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LINCOLN PARK — Heading the ball in a soccer game is hard on its own.

It's even more difficult for Francis W. Parker School junior defender Danny McGarvey, who has Tourette syndrome.

"When you go to head the ball, there's a technique to it, and part of that is holding your head still so you can drive your head through the ball," said Parker coach Neil Curran, of Uptown. "Danny has spasmodic movements of his head, which complicate that.

"It's a credit to him that he's worked hard to be as effective as possible in the back."

McGarvey and the rest of the Colonels' defense has been extremely effective during Parker's run to Friday's IHSA Class 1A state semifinal game against Gibault Catholic in Normal, Ill. The state championship is set for Saturday.

 Danny McGarvey, a defender on the Francis W. Parker boys soccer team, has Tourette's syndrome, and says he hopes to inspire others through his experience.
Danny McGarvey, a defender on the Francis W. Parker boys soccer team, has Tourette's syndrome, and says he hopes to inspire others through his experience.
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DNAinfo/Justin Breen

Parker (15-1-6) has allowed just one goal in five postseason games, as the Colonels, who finished fourth in 2007 and third in 2011, are seeking their first boys soccer state crown.

McGarvey is one of only two non-seniors in the starting 11, most of whom have been playing together for 10-plus years.

"It’s incredibly gratifying to be a starter on a state-caliber team," said McGarvey, 16, of Lincoln Park.

McGarvey said he was diagnosed with Tourette's in second grade. He said the syndrome used to cause vocal and physical tics, but now it's restricted to tics in his neck.

"Tourette’s is like a sneeze," McGarvey said. "You have to sneeze. There are ways you cannot sneeze, but eventually you’re going to have to sneeze. When I don’t think about it, it kind of comes out. "

He noted that his shoulder and back muscles get stressed out throughout the day, and during soccer games, the tics are harder to control.

But "I’m very comfortable with it where I never try to keep it in check," McGarvey said. "It is worse during the soccer season, but not to a point where it’s problematic.

"It’s so much of a part of me that it’s no less a part of me than my intellect or my athletic capability. It’s just one more thing that makes up who I am."

McGarvey, who has attended Parker since preschool, said he's never been bullied because of his Tourette's. He said the only part of his game affected by Tourette's is his headers.

He also wants to help children with the syndrome. He drafted a letter to one of his doctors, a Tourette's specialist, offering to inspire those with a more severe form of the disorder.

"I want to be helpful in any way possible," McGarvey said. "I’m blessed in a way that my Tourette’s isn’t bad enough where it’s affecting my life. I’m as lucky as I can be where I have a 'difference' like this. I can definitely function at a high level."

Curran, a personal trainer and sports psychologist who played goalie at Valparaiso University, said soccer has helped bolster McGarvey's confidence.

"It's helped him challenge himself," said Curran, who has known McGarvey for 10 years. "It had been hard for him to deal with, and as he's grown older, he's been more willing to take risks. That's really shown in sports."

Unlike his far more experienced teammates, McGarvey picked up soccer in eighth grade. His best friend, Parker goalie J.P. Pereira-Webber, said McGarvey has been a quick study.

"Danny has made a huge leap in terms of his technical ability," said Pereira-Webber, 18, a senior from Lincoln Park. "And his capacity to learn from the other three [defenders] who have played much longer has been great."

McGarvey also hopes to become the second member of his family to win a state title.

He said his father, Patrick, loves telling the story of his Upper St. Clair football team earning a Pennsylvania state trophy in 1975.

"Making it this far and being an integral member of the team is about as redeeming as it gets," Danny McGarvey said.