By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor
Johnny Buchanan and Tony Parisi were seemingly put on earth to make other people feel good about themselves, so it may be more than coincidence that the two found each other.
Through their meeting has blossomed a beautiful but somewhat unlikely friendship. Buchanan is a St. John Vianney High School graduate who just completed his freshman season with the University of Delaware football team. Parisi is an 86-year-old Korean War veteran who resides at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home in Edison.
“When I go visit Tony, it’s not to make him feel better; we truly became friends,” Buchanan said. “[When]I go in and they say, ‘You must be Tony’s grandson.’ I say, ‘No, he’s my older brother. I look pretty good for my age.’”
It’s a friendship born out of SJV assistant athletic director Pat Smith’s constant quest for Lancer athletes to give back. Smith is also the Holmdel school’s director of Christian Service and coordinator of Catholic Athletes for Christ. Four years ago, he began bringing various athletic teams to the veterans home during the school year.
Smith mentioned it to Buchanan his junior year, and he loved the idea. The Brick Township resident and parishioner of St. Martha, Point Pleasant, practices his faith daily. He wears a cross around his neck and prays before every game. During games, he has Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ”) on his left wrist and the word “FAMILY” on his right.
“That’s one of my favorite verses,” Buchanan said. “Any time training gets really tough, when I can’t do it, when it’s my last sprint, my last rep, I think of that, think about my family. In practice, I look down and see it written there, and it helps me push through.”
Buchanan’s faith allows him to appreciate his blessings. He became one of the community service leaders at SJV and is doing the same at Delaware.
During his first visit to Edison with CAC, Buchanan was immediately told he should search out Parisi.
“I go over to where Tony is sitting, and there’s a crowd around him,” Buchanan said. “He’s there telling stories, and this guy had the coolest stories about back in the day. We talked for two or three hours.”
It was the start of something special. A year later, Smith invited several veterans to the Lancers-Middletown South football game, including Parisi, and they were made honorary captains. Parisi was proudly at Buchanan’s side during the coin flip, and when Buchanan scored on a 50-yard touchdown run, he immediately ran to where the veterans were sitting and shook their hands.
Later that school year, on the same day Buchanan signed his Letter of Intent with Delaware, the football team paid another visit to Edison. The star linebacker and Army veteran continued to forge their friendship.
It seemed in jeopardy when Buchanan headed for Delaware. But this fall, when Smith took the girls’ soccer team to visit, Parisi asked about Buchanan, and Smith was able to connect the two via phone. That resulted in another visit Dec. 1 when Buchanan was home for the weekend.
“Two days after he talked to Tony, he came home within a 48-hour span,” Smith said. “That’s the kind of kid he is. He could have done anything that Saturday but he chose to visit Tony.”
Parisi told Buchanan that the visit made his Christmas, but there is more to come as Buchanan plans to drop in again during holiday break.
“The thing I love about him so much,” Buchanan said, “is he actually told me when I was there last week, ‘I didn’t come here to finish up my life; I came here to enjoy the rest of my life. I live every day thinking about enjoying life and having a good time.’”