The life of a Division I college basketball athlete is strenuous. The student-athletes split their time between practice, games, travel, mandatory workouts, classes and study halls.
In that sort of lifestyle, it’s easy to focus solely on basketball and lose sight of what is really important in life.
But at St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, the players and coaches have made it a point to give back to their community in any way possible.
The Terriers’ men’s basketball team conducted a basketball clinic at St. Ephrem’s parish, Dyker Heights, on Jan. 21 to benefit pediatric cancer research. This was the second straight year that the team participated in the parish’s “Swish for Kids” basketball classic.
The players held relay races for children battling cancer and those who have completed their treatment. The day started with a scrimmage for the athletes to display their skills to the youngsters in attendance.
Even if just for a few hours, the children enjoyed the atmosphere and forgot about their treatment schedules and medications.
“It put things in perspective,” said Glenn Braica, head men’s basketball coach at St. Francis. “I get a little crazy regarding basketball at times, and I’m sure our guys do at times as well. Twenty years from now, no one is going to remember the games, but this is real life and this is something that people deal with. Cancer touches everyone’s life at some point.”
While the kids learned some basketball skills from the players, the players were impressed by the enthusiasm and spirit of the children.
“We had some really talented kids here; they’re full of energy,” said junior forward Milos Trivic. “We really want to help these kids.”
“I think it’s a beautiful thing to see the kids with so much energy and excitement and have a care-free day,” said sophomore forward Lowell Ulmer.
Frank Stella, the parish athletic representative for basketball at St. Ephrem’s, served as the event chair. He is a survivor of Stage II non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, so he is certainly familiar with the experiences of the children.
“I was looking forward to this day since last year’s event,” he said. “It was especially nice to see the kids I went to see in the hospital over the past year.”
Prior to the clinic, St. Ephrem’s hosted a two-day basketball tournament featuring 26 teams from the Brooklyn/Queens Catholic Youth Organization. Each team paid an entrance fee, which was donated to 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.
“This day was just a remarkable time for the children,” said Camille Orrichio Loccisano, Frankie’s mother and the president/founder of Frankie’s Mission. “The air in the gym was filled with so much energy, hope and spirit. It gave them a great time to not think about their treatment and their chemotherapy.”
As he went through his treatment, Frankie had a vision of launching his own foundation to assist the childhood cancer community once he reached a cure. His vision has come to life, and the organization has grown rapidly and successfully.
“He (Frankie) would have absolutely loved this,” Orrichio Loccisano said. “This is a gym where he spent the greater part of his childhood. He played on this court just as the children did today.”
The parents in attendance said they were so grateful to the foundation for giving them hope in their time of need.
“This is a special event,” said Felix Modestin Jr., father of six-year-old Nicholas who is cancer free after a nearly four-year battle with leukemia. “Just watching my son run up and down the basketball court and even dribble the ball was beautiful.”
“It means a lot to all of the parents to know that there are other people that care about our kids,” said Theresa Napoli, mother of four-year-old Sophia who is six months in remission after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. “You can see that these players really care and really want to do something important for these kids and for the parents. It takes a team. That’s what children with cancer or any illness need; they need a team to pull them through.”
Double the amount of kids attended this year’s event compared to last year, and the relationship between the parish and the basketball team will continue to thrive. The children received medals, T-shirts and winter hats before being announced as part of a starting lineup and high-fiving all the Terriers’ players.
“St. Francis College basketball reminds me of a family,” said Stella, who also serves on the board of directors of Frankie’s Mission. “Coach Glenn is an incredibly loving man. His players understand that life is precious, which is a good thing because most college basketball players are thinking about basketball. But these guys know that helping these kids and just being with them for a little while, it means a lot to the kids.”
The beaming smiles of the children reminded the Division I athletes and everyone in attendance that there are some things in life more important than basketball.
But there was one smile that made the day complete: that of Frankie Loccisano looking down upon the children playing basketball and enjoying themselves on his home court.
To make a donation, visit www.frankiesmission.org.