By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 10/11/08
It was Nick Colleluori’s dream to help raise awareness and money so others who had blood cancer like he did could have a better chance to recover.
Saturday at the 2nd Annual Nick Colleluori Classic at Ridley High, 13 men’s lacrosse teams got the chance to see his dream fulfilled up close and personal.
Each of the teams was assigned an ‘Honorary Captain,” someone connected to their school who was recovering from blood cancer. For Widener, the team hero was David Wolovitz, who has been in remission for several years and delivered a rousing pep talk to the Pride before their two games.
Our (Honorary Captain) spoke to us and to see him smile…I was so happy to see him tell his story,” said Widener junior defender a nd Ridley grad Nick Politarhos, after his team split its two games against Division I Bellarmine (Ky.) and local rival Haverford College. “He had cancer and they said he had three years to live, but because of a benefit like this to raise money, he is in remission and has been living five years longer than they said he would. Just to hear that is awesome.”
Wolovitz graduated from Widener in the 1960s when it was know as Pennsylvania Military College.
Saturday’s event was orgaized by the HEADstrong Foundation, an idea first developed by Ridley High grad and Hofstra student-athlete Nick Colleluori during his fight against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Nick passed away on Nov. 28, 2006 after a 14-month fight.
“It means a lot playing here, at Ridley,” said Politarhos, a key member of the Pride’s four-time defending Middle Atlantic Conference champions. “We’re coming home – not like we’re far – seeing everyone you haven’t seen in a while. It’s a great cause and I’m glad they’re having it here.”
Politarhos is one of six Widener players who went to Ridley. One of those, junior midfielder Cory Malampy, who grew up with Nick, had many emotions.
“For me it’s a very personal level to come back and play because I knew Nick for many years,” he said. “To be able to come back and honor him is a great thing.”
Said Widener coach Jamie Lockard: “This is a great day. It (The Classic) has already taken off in its second year. It’s pretty neat to be a part of it.
“It raises so much awareness. I’m on the (HEADstrong) website, and I’m reading about the cancer and what it does to you. I had no knowledge about (this cancer) until a year and a half ago when I learned about this (foundation). Then, you incorporate it into a sport like this with so many young people, and I think it’s a great thing.”
St. Joseph’s coach Pat Cullinan said his team’s Honorary Captain, Jon Jeffries, was an inspiration to his Hawks. Jeffries, a Ridley grad, is recovering from blood cancer and will graduate this year from Elizabethtown.
“This year’s event is more personal,” Cullinan said. “We got to interact with Jon and hear his story. It was somewhat emotional at the end to say good bye.
“He made a great impression, which is what makes this day special. He is their age, which gives it a little bit more reality. Last Thursday he got his sixth-month clean bill of health.
“He knew Nick and the family and he’ll graduate in May. He is looking forward to getting to that next six-month period. He didn’t want to focus on himself, but more on what people have to go through.
“We’re going to stay in touch with him since my daughter is a sophomore at Elizabethtown.
“The biggest thing I heard – and we’ve been talking about this – is that you never take anything for granted. You can be diagnosed when you’re 22 years old. Usually they think it’s something you get young in life or old in life.”
The good feelings were shared by all. “Nick blessed us today with this weather,” said Cabrini senior midfielder Chris Cavaliere, another Ridley grad who played with Colleluori in high school. “Being here last year and being here this year, it’s amazing to see the growth. What’s to come?”
Loyola junior defender Steve Layne, a Malvern Prep grad, said it was great to come home for such a good cause.
“We don’t get the chance to play many games in the Philly area. Actually, it was the first time in my college career I’ve been back up. But I got to see a lot of familiar faces and people coming out to support Nick.
“Last year we wore the laces and now we’re here, being a part of it. We’ve come full circle. It’s incredible how huge this got in such a small time.”
Haverford College sophomore defender Scott Kelley, a Springfield-Delco graduate, agreed. “It’s fantastic to come back here,” he said. “I’ve had a couple tough battles on this field. We were here last year and it’s grown so much. It’ a great day for lacrosse.”
Princeton junior midfielder Paul Barnes, a Haverford School grad, enjoyed the atmosphere and the fact all the players got a lime green t-shirt with the HEADstrong motto, “relentless,” in honor of Nick’s fight.
“It was awesome,” Barnes said. “It was a great cause and we have a great motto.”
Another Springfield-Delco grad, Penn State senior goalie Drew Adams, also enjoyed his homecoming. Adams, a third-team All-American last year who recently was named a Nittany Lion captain, is one of 18 Philly players from Penn State.
“I couldn’t ask for a better place to come back to play,” Adams said. “I know all the Philly guys feel the same way. It’s really neat I probably played on this field 20 times in high school.”
Maryland sophomore defender Brett Schmidt, an Upper Dublin grad who played in the event’s last game against Princeton, said the cause was more important than the score of his contest.
“Lacrosse-wise, we really didn’t play our best games so we have our work cut out for us in the winter, but it was nice to see how many people came out to support the cause,” he said. “I’m glad we came and and helped raise all this money. I’m glad we’re involved in it.”
Willie McGonigle contributed to this story