By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 10/10/09
After morning rain, the spotlight shined brightly today on the Third Annual Nick Colleluori Classic at Ridley High in Folsom, Pa.
Thousands of lacrosse fans attended the first of the two-day men’s Fall Ball event run by the HEADstrong Foundation to benefit research and awareness for blood cancer and to honor the legacy of Nick “Head’ Colleluori. The Ridley grad, who played lacrosse at Hofstra, died of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma three years ago after a 14-month illness.
Nine Division I men’s teams – Philly schools Penn, Drexel, Villanova and St. Joseph’s as well as UMBC, Hofstra, Detroit Mercy, Lafayette and Mount St. Mary’s – played two games each on two fields. Tomorrow the event continues (10 a.m. start) with six Division III squads and one Division II team participating in three 1-hour games each.
Already in less than 3 years, the HEADstrong Foundation has raised $1 million for blood cancer research.
“This is a great day to represent my brother and his memory,” said HEADstrong Vice President Michael Colleluori, Nick’s younger brother and a recent graduate of Hofstra. “And this is also for lacrosse as well because that’s our avenue to generate our funds for research.”
Midway through the day, HEADstrong President Cheryl Colleluori, Nick’s mother, made a special presentation to all in attendance with each team cirlcing her on the turf field. Mrs. Colleluori noted how Nick’s message has spread and she accepted a check for over $28,000 from Brine for its sales of a special “Relentless” line launched just three months ago to honor Nick’s other nickname.
She also spoke about the “surreal” growth of the HEADstrong Foundation and how Nick’s dream has continued to come true. He, himself, created the idea of the foundation and the desire to find a cure for blood cancer while he was ill. Mrs. Colleluori was happy to talk about the many ways HEADstrong has grown around the country and how a youth team by the name of Team Relentless in California raised $25,000 through the new Score for the Cure program for youth players.
One glitch occurred just before the games began when Rutgers University was forced to pull out because one of its players contracted bacterial meningitis and is in intensive care. The schedule was altered slightly, but the event was not affected.
In fact, due to the loss of Rutgers, Philly schools Penn and Drexel got to square off in a rivalry game that has taken on even more meaning. Drexel is coached by Brian Voelker, who coached Penn the past seven years before moving to Dexel this summer.
“It’s a little different playing against the Penn team and I think both sides handled it pretty well,” said Voelker. “But once the game starts, you just go play. But we talked to our kids about what the tournament’s for,
“For a coach it’s about getting better and trying to figure out what you gotta do to win some games unthe spring. But it’s also about raising money for a great cause. We had the guys sit down and think about that before the games started.”
Another special part of the day was the presence of Mount St. Mary’s University among the field. The Mount’s coach, Tom Gravante, was cured of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma last year after an 8-year battle with the disease.
“It’s a pleasure to be here for the (Colleluori) family to raise funds for the cure so no family has to lose their child,” Gravante said. “It took me 8 years to get my body back. I have known the Colleluori family for at least 3 years and his diagnosis was the same as mine. It’s truly a shame that we lost such a bright young man and a wonderful future – but it’s wonderful what the family has done in his honor.”
Michael Colleluori, who graduated as an USILA and Academic All-American this year from Hofstra and plans to become a doctor, said Nick’s message continues to be heard. In the past year the HEADstrong Foundation has added a Women’s Classic (held last month at Hofstra) and launched “Score for the Cure” to involve youth and scholastic players in the fundraising drive. Also, many outfitters are selling HEADstrong apparel and the trademark lime green laces are being worn all across the lacrosse world.
“It’s taken on its own life,” said Michael Colleluori of Nick’s passion to cure blood cancer. “I think Nick has a lot to do with that. He was an unbelievable kid. People are learning his story and they just buy in.
“Everybody just loves what we’re about and they want to help out in any way possible. Everyone’s collaborate effort is really contributing to how successful we’ve been. We want to push forward and keep growing and growing and growing.
“We want to make a difference in the lives of people that are suffering with the disease and do everything we can to support research and find a cure for this thing.”
Michael Colleluori also credited the college teams for being involved in HEADstrong’s cause and selling T-shirts to help the fund drive.
“We want to send thank yous for all teams participating,” he said. “In the near future, we want to make it even bigger than it is now. We want to help spread our awareness of what we are about.”