In what has become a winter tradition, St. Ephrem’s parish, Dyker Heights, hosted the third annual “Swish for Kids” basketball classic Jan. 19 in the school’s gymnasium.
The men’s basketball teams from St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, and the College of Mount St. Vincent, the Bronx, played a scrimmage, held relay races and taught basketball skills to nearly 20 children battling cancer and those who have completed their treatment.
It’s easy for any college athlete to lose sight of reality, given the rigorous schedule of games, practices, extensive travel and mandatory study halls. But through the clinic, these two teams got the chance to experience what’s really important in life.
“I think it’s great that the guys get the chance to come here and work with the kids a little bit,” said Glenn Braica, head men’s basketball coach at St. Francis College. “If we can put a smile on one or two of their faces, I think that’s the best thing we can do all year.”
Frank Stella, the parish athletic representative for basketball at St. Ephrem’s, served as the event chair for the third straight year. He is a survivor of Stage 4-B Hodgkin’s lymphoma, so he is certainly familiar with the experiences of the children.
Since the first “Swish for Kids” classic in late December, 2011, the number of participants has more than doubled each year, to Stella’s delight.
“If you watch the players with the kids, it’s marvelous what they do,” said Msgr. Peter Kain, pastor of St. Ephrem’s. “And the kids … their eyes are ready to pop out they’re so excited. They love being here.”
Even if just for a short time, the children were able to forget about their treatment schedules and medications and just be kids for a change.
“I learned how to dribble and shoot, and I had a lot of fun,” said Jonick Jean-Pierre from St. Jerome parish, Flatbush.
“It’s awesome,” said Tommy Guardavaccaro from St. Ephrem’s. “We play monkey-in-the-middle, ‘steal the bacon’ and we even do a little free throws.”
The college players meanwhile were impressed by the enthusiasm and spirit of the children.
“They’re really good; they’re really fast actually, and they learn quickly,” said Ben Mockford, Terriers’ senior guard. “They’re happy, we’re happy … that’s what it’s all about.”
Prior to the Sunday clinic, St. Ephrem’s hosted a one-day basketball classic featuring 14 Catholic Youth Organization teams. Each team paid an entrance fee, and all the proceeds benefit the Francesco Loccisano Memorial Foundation.
The non-profit organization, also known as Frankie’s Mission, was formed in the memory of Frankie Loccisano, a former student at St. Ephrem’s Elementary School and Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, who lost his battle with bone cancer and leukemia in September, 2007. The mission of the foundation is to provide financial security for families of pediatric cancer patients nationwide so that they can focus their own resources on their child’s treatment.
“We have a rapport with social workers and childhood cancer specialists all across the country, and they let us know the families who are feeling a financial dilemma due to the nature of their child’s illness because it is just financially devastating,” said Camille Loccisano, Frankie’s mother and the president/founder of Frankie’s Mission.
For the first time, the players and coaches from Mount St. Vincent took part in the event.
“These kids are really going through a tough time, and it really just puts your life into value,” said Gerard Fraser, Dolphins’ senior center. “I could be struggling in class or on the basketball court, but it’s nothing compared to what they’re dealing with. We tip our hats towards these kids.”
“This was a great experience for our guys, and I’m glad we were able to take part in this,” said Brian Nigro, Dolphins’ head men’s coach. “We would love to be back next year and many more years after that.”
To make a donation to help a family struggling with pediatric cancer, visit www.frankiesmission.org.