A Very Special Groomsman

Amanda Collins Bernier

Asking someone to stand next to you on your wedding day is an honor that’s hard to equal. So when Chris Entrup started picking his groomsman, he gave it a lot of thought.

“I was thinking of people who had an impact on my life, and people I wanted a relationship with going forward,” he said. Close cousins, old high school friends, and pals from college naturally came to mind.

And then he thought of Christopher, a teen whose relationship with Entrup was in a category all its own.

“He was someone I had spent so much time with, I knew I wanted him there at the wedding. But the more I thought about it, I really wanted him to be involved in it,” the groom said.

Entrup was a junior at the College of the Holy Cross when he met then 11-year-old Christopher Poplawski. Christopher, who has Down syndrome, was playing soccer with Unified Sports, an arm of the Special Olympics that promotes social inclusion through sports, and Entrup was volunteering along with his roommate, Alex. They found themselves drawn to young the athlete.

“He was the youngest player by far, and just had this happiness about him,” said Entrup. “He was running around, playing, diving, dancing,” Entrup recalled. “I just thought, ‘who knew someone could have so much fun?’”

From wrestling on the sidelines to dancing in the field, all three of the boys enjoyed their weekly meetups. Sometimes Christopher, who was two years post treatment for a three-year battle with leukemia, would tire in the middle of a game. His buddies would swoop in and carry him piggyback-style across the soccer field.

The friendship continued through the soccer season, then onto basketball season, and soon moved beyond the organized club. The trio began meeting up just hang out, attend a hockey game, or catch a movie together.

The connection even spanned distance. After Entrup graduated in 2013 and moved back to his home state of New Jersey, he’d make it a point to schedule some time to see Christopher whenever he returned to Massachusetts. In between visits, the boys became pen pals, exchanging handwritten letters and photos.

“There’s been something special about their bond from the get-go,” said Christopher’s mother, Tracy. “As a mom, it’s warmed my heart to see.”

Tracy remembers tearing up when Entrup called her to ask about including Christopher in his wedding party. She wasn’t sure her son knew exactly what being a groomsman meant, but she knew he’d be thrilled at any opportunity to hang out with his friend Chris.

Entrup made it official with a package in the mail. He sent Christopher a letter, mug, some candies and a note that asked, “Will you suit up for my wedding?”

“I told him he could show off his dance moves and that there would be a lot of pretty girls there,” laughed Entrup. “He didn’t hesitate much.”

Seventeen-year-old Christopher suited up for Entup’s nuptials on September 9, a 200-guest wedding at a grand chateau in Pleasantdale, New Jersey. He got dressed with all the groomsmen, walked his partner bridesmaid down the aisle, and stood proudly next to his buddy while he married his sweetheart, Jillian.

“He did everything he was supposed to do and he danced the entire night. I don’t think he ever sat down,” Tracy laughed. “He absolutely loved every second of it.”

Entrup knew he would.

“One thing I’ve always admired about Christopher is that he always finds a way to be happy,” said Entrup. “He’s always present. He can find the fun in anything. That’s made being his friend really awesome.”