Vahe Gregorian

You had to be there: Why a wedding meant more than a Chiefs game to this sportswriter

The columnist/wedding officiator, Vahe Gregorian, is flanked by the bride and groom during last week’s ceremony in Pennsylvania.
The columnist/wedding officiator, Vahe Gregorian, is flanked by the bride and groom during last week’s ceremony in Pennsylvania. Special to The Star

When we moved from St. Louis to Kansas City in 2013, part of the new gig was covering all Chiefs games, home and away. Until last Thursday, the only few I’d missed were because of conflicts with Royals playoff games.

In the fascinating Patrick Mahomes Era, now more than ever that aspect of the job feels like an important responsibility.

So I really hated missing their game at Denver last week and felt some pangs of withdrawal about not being part of the coverage with my incredible coworkers, especially when Mahomes was injured.

But I also wouldn’t have been anywhere else other than where I was instead: in my hometown of Swarthmore, Pa., officiating the wedding of Kelsey Hansen and Dylan Terenick.

This is why:

When we moved there in 1973 as I was entering seventh grade, somehow, a tall, pretty blonde girl named Becky Brown was about the first person to welcome me and became one of my Best Friends Forever long before that term was a thing.

Somehow, too, I’d become friends with the rugged, charismatic, willful and larger-than-life Cris Hansen, who introduced us all to Bruce Springsteen and put out fires and tried to save people in accidents and declined college athletic scholarships to be a fireman and paramedic.

Becky and Cris got married and 25 years ago had their first child, Kelsey, who arrived 13 weeks early and weighed in at 2 pounds, 7 ounces. Somehow, she didn’t just survive but thrived to become a radiant, irresistible person with a spirit that knows no limits of kindness and generosity.

I think of her as a miracle.

Kelsey and her wonderful sister, Kristen, were in their early teens when Cris died of esophageal cancer in 2008.

The funeral was one of the most overwhelming experiences of my life, including the procession of fire trucks from all over Delaware County (and beyond?) and the aerial ladder arches provided by many fire companies along the route.

It was hard to breathe at the last radio call and when the helicopter moved in over Cris’ grave site and dipped its nose farewell.

As deeply attached as so many of us already felt to the girls, it was all the more so in the wake of Cris’ death.

It meant so much to be asked to walk in Becky and the girls when she got remarried. And when Kelsey asked me to officiate her wedding with the delightful Dylan, it was an indescribable thrill. And that was before I even knew the Phillie Phanatic would show up at the reception.

Since they wanted to get married in the fall, when they set the date two years ago they made it for a Friday night so I wouldn’t have to miss a Chiefs game anywhere in the country. But the NFL’s schedule announcement in April came with a curveball: The Chiefs would play Thursday Oct. 17 in Denver.

With the rehearsal dinner scheduled last Wednesday night, I initially thought about flying from KC to Philly that day, Philly to Denver on Thursday, and Denver back to Philly on Friday for the actual ceremony.

But so many things could go wrong, not to mention I’d be wiped out and one way or another less prepared than I should be.

As it was, I had a little wardrobe snafu. I missed on the invitation that everyone had been asked to wear either black or white to the wedding, so my dark navy suit wasn’t going to be appropriate. That left Becky and my wife, Cindy, and I shopping for a suitable alternative the day before the wedding, leading to a bit of an informal look.

So, I’m grateful that my boss, Jeff Rosen, signed off for a day I’ll forever remember as one of the greatest of my life.

Walking with Dylan into the gorgeous Scott Outdoor Amphitheater at Swarthmore College, where it’s believed Springsteen in 1974 played “Born To Run” for the first time.

Watching Kelsey and Kristen disembark from a Swarthmore Fire Department truck with their father’s name on it.

Seeing Kelsey sobbing her way down the stairs with stepfather Dave Welsh and up to the stage to her weeping husband-to-be. (Kristen later joked that the bride and groom were crying so much it felt like an arranged marriage).

And getting to tell a little tale of the couple, who further bonded by the shared experience of losing their fathers when they were young, and stand by them through the vows they’d written and feel the joy they give so many.

As for Mahomes and the Chiefs, I learned that Cindy is quite animated when she watches their games — and that even football fans from Philly, Chicago and Vermont who were there for the wedding love the guy and hated seeing him get hurt.

I am looking forward to getting back to all that good stuff now.

But I really appreciated the chance to step back and be part of something so special, one of those moments in life when you really had to be there.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.
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