YATESVILLE — In sports terminology, an assist is credited when a pass leads to a made shot in basketball or a goal in hockey; however, many local high school sports teams take the word to another level by donating time and efforts to help community organizations and those less fortunate.
Combining for a cause
Last year, Pittston Area head wrestling coach James Woodall started the tradition of having his team members conduct a community service project.
“We came up with the idea to sell T-shirts as a fundraiser and it was very successful with a lot of people involved,” Woodall said. “The whole booster club also gets involved. The wrestling program organized it, but the entire school participated.”
The Patriots teamed with Wyoming Area for a Pink Out meet, which raised money to support Candy’s Place, The Center for Cancer Wellness in Forty Fort.
“It’s a rivalry, but it’s a friendly rivalry,” Woodall said. “Even though the competition was fierce on the mats, in the end, we were all on the same team fighting for the same cause.”
The Pink Out meet had a special impact on Pittston Area junior Jason DeBoard and his family.
“My mom had breast cancer so it was really a big deal for me,” DeBoard said. “Seeing everyone wearing pink in support really helped her get through everything. It was a good blessing.”
This year, the Patriots are working with Wallenpaupack High School to raise money to donate to the Earthly Angels Autism Fund of the Luzerne Foundation.
“I came up with the idea while watching television,” Woodall said. “An autism commercial came on and I linked (the disorder) with education. There are a lot of people with autism and there are so many different symptoms within the spectrum.”
Patriots senior Chris Starinsky believes shedding light on autism will be a help to many people in the community.
“There are a lot of people who have mental disabilities,” Starinsky said. ” I feel like autism is overlooked sometimes, so it’s good to change the fundraiser up a little bit.”
According to DeBoard, the coaching staff has instilled a culture of service throughout the program.
“We’re not allowed to be on the team unless we do community service,” he said. “We have to complete 10 hours each month and the service projects bring us way closer than anything could, even wrestling. They create a strong bond.”
Woodall added the team’s commitment to service began under the previous head coach and believes the kind acts help mold the athletes into better individuals.
“It really started when Matt (Giampietro) was coaching.” he said. “He always did things like collect coats or gloves and donated them to local churches. We also had food drives; it just didn’t receive as much attention.”
Last year, Pittston Area and Wyoming Area raised more than $1,500 and Mike Lombardo of the Pittston Area Wrestling Booster Club is hopeful that number will continue to grow.
“I’ve talked with Wallenpaupack’s coach and athletic director and they are deeply involved with the project,” Lombardo said.
Honoring a friend, teammate
The Wyoming Area boys basketball program donates funds to Little Eric’s Foundation, a nonprofit created in Eric Speicher Jr.’s honor, each year. The foundation raises money to support childhood and pediatric brain cancer research.
According to the foundation’s website, Speicher, of West Pittston, was diagnosed with brain cancer, specifically a grade 3 Anaplastic Ependymoma, a rare tumor of the brain or spinal cord. He endured three brain surgeries before he passed away on Dec. 23, 2013, at age 14.
Speicher was a member of the freshman boys basketball team and a close friend of many current players.
“It’s something that unites everyone in the school community, especially the boys on the team,” said Wyoming Area boys basketball coach Pete Moses. “Because he was their teammate, they really rally around the cause.”
Last year, before the memorial game to honor Speicher, each Wyoming Area player was announced as number 34, the number Eric wore as a freshman.
According to Moses, although the game was held at Crestwood High School, the Comets coaching staff made the team feel right at home.
“Their head coach (Mark Atherton) was kind enough to allow us to celebrate Eric’s life even though it was a road game,” Moses said. “All the players came out wearing number 34 T-shirts.”
According to Parents Association Secretary Erin Brogna, “ironically” the team raised $3,400 during the first year of the fundraiser through the sale of T-shirts, baked goods and rubber bracelets. They raised approximately $1,200 last year.
This year’s game to honor Speicher was played Dec. 22. A Coaches vs. Cancer game with proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society will be played Jan. 29.
“It’s extra special when the charity you’re supporting hits close to home,” Moses said. “There is a picture of Eric hanging in our gym that reminds us of him every time we play a home game. When the players are thinking about Eric, they play with an increased intensity and energy.
“I never had the pleasure to meet Eric, but I coached against Wyoming Area the year he passed away and I’m very proud of the players for continuing to honor his memory.”
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.