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Top Stories of 2008…No. 4 – HEADstrong, Nick Colleluori Classic saw cause grow even larger

Tuesday, 27th January 2009

Categories Boy's/Men's, Girl's/Women's  
 

By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 1/27/09

In only two short years, the Annual Nick Colleluori Classic has emerged as one of the biggest Fall Ball events in the country for men’s lacrosse.

But the lacrosse extravaganza held at Ridley High has become much more than a day to play lacrosse – it’s become a day to celebrate Nick Colleluori’sdream.

Nick, nicknamed Head for his hard-headed intensity, passed away in November of 2006 due to non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer he fought hard for months. While ill, the Ridley High graduate who was playing for Hofstra University developed the idea of a foundation that would raise enough awareness and funds to help cure blood cancer.

Today, the HEADstrong Foundation, thanks to the Nick Colleluori Classic, has raised $400,000 in Nick’s honor.

Not a bad idea, Nick.

Last year’s 2nd Annual Nick Colleluori Classic drew 10,000 people to Ridley. Thirteen teams – some from Philly, some from as far as Bellarmine, Ky. – played all day on a brilliant weekend day to spread the word about Nick’s fight and love of lacrosse and life.

“My son, Michael, said, ‘Nick was one of a kind,’” said Nick’s mother,Cheryl Colleluori, the HEADstrong President. “He was ‘relentless.’ In whatever he did, whether it was busting someone chops, doing schoolwork or playing a game, he approached it with passion.
“This tournament is just a small glimpse of who Nick was.”

The Colleluori Classic – featuring 18 games over a 12-hour period – raised over $150,000 last year and has spawned even more interest in the cause. The HEADstrong team color is lime green and thus far sales of lime green shoe laces – being worn by many college teams – has exceeded $100,000.

Late last year the Foundation co-sponsored the popular Lax4Lives tournament at the Sportsplex in Feasterville. Also last year HEADstrong held a

Blood Drive

for the Red Cross a Thanksgiving Feast at the Hospital of the University ofPennsylvania, a bone marrow donation event, and a night out with the Phillies while participating in the Leukemia & Lymphoma’s Annual Light the Night Walk.

And recently the Foundation kicked off its “Score For A Cure” program where scholastic and youth players can help raise money for the cause through sponsorships.

This year’s 3rd Annual Nick Colleluori Classic has expanded to a two-day event, slated for Oct. 10-11 at Ridley High, and possibly a women’s tournament at another time. The Foundation will release the exact details of the Classic in the next few weeks.

Regardless, the momentum of the drive to raise funds and awareness continues to move steadily. And at the main event, the Colleluori Classic, everyone was at their best, whether it was the college players, the youth clinic instructors or the incredible group of devoted volunteers.

“Nick means so much to this team and we went out there truly inspired by him and what he had brought to this program,” said Hofstra junior long-stick midfielder Joe Caven, a Pennsbury graduate, after his team played a strong game against Maryland. “We definitely tried to go out there and lay it all on the line.

“Although he is not here, he is truly remembered. The lime green doesn’t go far away even when we’re off the field. A lot of guys wear lime green shorts around campus and we definitely live through him, still.”

In 2007 the Pride all wore jerseys with No. 27, Nick’s playing number. This year their jerseys all said C-O-L-L-E-L-U-O-R-I on the back.

“We just want him to be with us,” Caven said. “What he meant to the program we’ll never forget. It’s a little token to keep him in our minds and make sure we’re doing he right thing.

Hofstra coach Seth Tierney, who has been credited for his heavy support for the Classic even though he never got to coach Nick, was emotional after the final game.

“Today, I asked for one thing: a ‘Nick Colleluori effort.’ We did not get it in the middle game (against Loyola). I got it in the last game.

“And that’s what it was all about. It had nothing to do about winning or losing. It was for Nick and to play like he played every time he stepped on this field.

“And we challenged the guys. We got our feelings hurt a little in the second game and then we came back and played relentless.”

Teams played either two or three 50-minute games at the Classic and also had an honorary captain – someone who has been diagnosed with blood cancer or is in remission.

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 fromElizabethtown.

“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?”

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