By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 10/9/08
Cheryl Colleluori still has trouble holding back her grief when talking about her son, Nick, and how he lived during his fight against blood cancer.
“It isn’t supposed to happen to a 21-year-old role model. This is the kid you want to be like. He did all the right things. We need to do our part to end this.
“I can’t rest until I do everything I can.”
Before Nick “Head” Colleluori died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in November of 2006, he had a dream of helping to cur e blood cancer. Thanks to the HEADstrong Foundation, driven by Nick’s zest to live even in the darkest of times, his dream is at least a little closer to reality.
Saturday at Ridley High, where Nick Colleluori was a standout lacrosse player, 13 college teams from Philadelphia and beyond will participate in the 2nd Annual Nick Colleluori Classic.
The event, a hit last year in its inaugural showing when 5,000 attended, is expected to draw well over 7,000 people and raise more than $200,000 for blood cancer research.
The games begin at 9 a.m. and run until 9 p.m. on two fields at the Ridley Athletic Complex. A special clinic will be run for youth players at 1 p.m. and the complex will be filled with vendors and activities for kids all day. Admission is $10.
The purpose of the event, says Cheryl Colleluori, the Foundation President, is to promote cancer awareness and to help continue a fight that Nick made for 14 months after being diagnosed while attending Hofstra University as a student-athlete.
“If peop le can just take a piece of him that day, the world will be that much better,” said Cheryl.
The statistics on blood cancer – leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma – are staggering. An estimated 138,530 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed in 2008, according to the foundation. These cancers will cause 52,910 deaths in the U.S. this year; leukemia causes more deaths than any other cancer among children and young adults under the age of 20.
The tourney field includes Philly Division I schools Penn, Villanova and St. Joseph’s and Philly Division III teams Widener, Haverford College and Cabrini. Also from the region are Penn State, Lehigh and Princeton as well as Hofstra, Maryland, Bellarmine and Loyola.
The games will last about 50 minutes and more than 100 players from the Philadelphia area – including Nick’s brother, Hofstra senior Michael Colleluori – dot the rosters of the 13 teams. It will be indeed be a day that Nick Colleluori, known as a great competitor who loved people and lacrosse, would have enjoyed.
A special component of the event is that each team will have an Honorary Captain. In most cases they are young cancer patients. One of these Honorary Captains is Haverford graduate K.C. Peterson, a 23-year-old cancer patient now in remission.
Peterson, a standout goalie, went through his treatments at the same time as Nick Colleluori and the two became friends, linked together forever.
Another highlight will be the kids’ clinic, which will be run, among others, by several Ridley grads now playing professional lacrosse: Mike Podgajny and Bill McGlone of the San Francisco Dragons and Brett Moyer of the Philadelphia Barrage.
Matt Flynn, the Tournament Director, noted how the field has more than doubled from last year (six teams) and that at least 10 schools had to be turned away.
“We had 5,000 people last year and we’ve more than doubled the teams,” he said. “If the weather cooperates, we’ll have great attendance throughout the day. We have some of the marquee games at night; hopefully we’ll fill the stands.”
How has this tourney grown so fast? Flynn said that the determination showed by Nick is most evident in how Cheryl and his father, Pat Colleluori, have worked tirelessly to build it and sell it.
Last season, thousands of dollars were raised by sales of the lime-green shoelaces that signify the foundation. Nick was the one who came up with the idea of using the color lime to spread the word of the fight against blood cancer.
At Hofstra, coach Seth Tierney, who arrived just before Nick passed away, has taken the baton and shown major support by having his team don the laces and getting others to follow.
“I think the credit has to go to Cheryl Colleluori,” Flynn said. “She spoke to the Division I coaches at the convention last year and made a presentation about HEADstrong and her son.
“She pushed the lime shoelaces. I was shocked at how the college teams adopted the laces during the season. It’s a powerful story and coach Tierney has also been a driving force at Hofstra. He has brought some of his coaching colleagues to the table.
“Our job is to give them a good lacrosse experience and hopefully continue to grow the tournament. Outside of the Division I championships at the Linc (Lincoln Financial Field in 2005 and 2006), this is the biggest lacrosse event I can remember in the Philadelphia area.”
For more information on the HEADstrong Foundation, go to HEADstrongfoundation.org.