The college basketball season can take its toll on a student-athlete. Players must worry about their on-court performance, putting in the necessary practice and workout time, studying film on their next opponent and most importantly, keeping up with their schoolwork.
That rigorous schedule doesn’t leave too much leftover time. However, two local college basketball teams were able to break from their normal time commitments to experience what’s most important about the sport they love.
For the fourth consecutive year, St. Ephrem’s parish, Dyker Heights, basketball program hosted the Swish for Kids Classic Jan. 25 in which the men’s basketball teams from St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, and the College of Mount St. Vincent, the Bronx, put on a clinic for children battling cancer and those who have completed their treatment.
Normally held at St. Ephrem’s gymnasium, St. Patrick Catholic Academy, Bay Ridge, graciously stepped up as the event’s host venue after a water-main break damaged the St. Ephrem’s gym floor.
For a few hours, the scoreboards were turned off, the clipboards were put away and the college basketball players were able to brighten up the day for the children going through some tough times.
“This is actually a great day for many people, the kids especially,” said Frank Stella, Swish for Kids chairman and St. Ephrem’s parish athletic representative, who himself is a survivor of Stage 4-B Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“It’s a timeout from their daily routine, just about what you’re going through, what you’ve been through for the survivors and those in remission and just come out and have fun. It’s a really nice day.”
The St. Francis Terriers are off to a roaring start in Northeast Conference league play, but each year, the team makes it a point to participate in the event.
“As you go through the season, you get kind of caught up with the basketball stuff, and you realize that there are things in the world going on that are much more important than that,” said Glenn Braica, head men’s basketball coach at St. Francis. “If we can come here and just put a smile on a couple of kids’ faces for a couple of hours, it’s a great day for us.”
More than double the amount of children took part in the event this year as opposed to years past. Following the morning clinic, 14 Catholic Youth Organization basketball teams played in the Swish for Kids tournament, with all entry fees once again being donated to a great cause.
The funds raised benefit the Francesco Loccisano Pediatric Cancer Foundation, also know as “Frankie’s Mission.” Frankie was a former student at St. Ephrem’s School and Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, who passed away in September, 2007 after battling bone cancer and leukemia.
“Our organization is all about being there with and for the families,” said Camille Loccisano, Frankie’s mother and the foundation’s director.
“We help them financially, but we still give a lot of emotional support. Whatever it is that they need for us to do, we are there. It’s what my son wanted. Frankie said, ‘Mom I want my own foundation, I want to help families.’ And that’s what we do.”
For the second year, Mount St. Vincent’s team came down from the Bronx for the event. The team’s head coach, Brian Nigro, was one of Frankie’s teachers at Xaverian.
“We’ve talked about this event for the past week to truly realize how important it is and how lucky they are to be healthy, be in college and to have the opportunity being handed to them by their parents and by their school,” Nigro said.
The day was made possible thanks to Investors Bank, the event sponsor, and Harbor Fitness, which provided pizza for the basketball participants. The day wrapped up with an awards ceremony in which the kids ran through high-fiving a valley of college student-athletes and then receiving a medal and plaque, sponsored by Crown Trophy.
The kids may have instantly looked up to the basketball players as their heroes, but in fact, the reverse is more so true.
“They (the children) go through a lot…more than most people probably go through in a lifetime, but they can come out here and still have fun and smile and inspire the rest of us to really appreciate everything,” said Caitlin Herbert, a coach for St. Ephrem’s youth basketball instructional program. “It’s a very emotional thing.”
Even if just for a short time, the kids and their families were able to forget about their treatment schedules and medications and just be kids for a change.
As such, Swish for Kids continued its mission of being an event that transcends the realm of sports.
To make a donation to help a family struggling with pediatric cancer, visit www.frankiesmission.org.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.