WEST GROVE – Sports feature athleticism, competitiveness and exciting games, but sometimes the greatest moments in sports are when a community of athletes come together to support one another.
That’s just where the HEADstrong Foundation comes into play.
HEADstrong began on a hospital bed by young Nicholas Colleluori, who endured a 14-month battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer, before he passed away.
He was just 21-years-old.
“Nicholas was a selfless individual – a very genuine person,” said Michael Colleluori, his brother. “The one thing that I like to talk about him is that it was never about Nick, it was always about everybody else. That was the way he lived his life. He was a very positive, upbeat person.”
Shortly after his diagnosis, Nicholas Colleluori, active in lacrosse, football and wrestling, outlined the basis of HEADstrong. He wanted it to raise awareness for blood cancer and help others afflicted by it and tie athletes in.
“As he turned in his lacrosse pole for a chemo pole, his desire to change the game for people in the fight against cancer was conceptualized as an athletic-rooted, nonprofit organization called HEADstrong Foundation to unite, inspire and empower student athletes to improve quality of life for those affected by blood cancer came to fruitio,” said Cheryl Colleluori, his mother.
“During his final hours, he made one request to us – that others following in his footsteps would benefit from the life that he lived.”
His parents continued the charge with HEADstrong, just as they promised, and they have come a long, long way since then.
To date, HEADstrong has raised $5 million with a whopping $1.2 million of that going toward cancer research.
“Ninety cents of every dollar goes directly back to our mission, which is unheard of for nonprofits,” Michael Colleluori said. “That will always be the case.”
The foundation has spread across the country and now has nine different teams throughout the United States who serve as ambassadors for when the Colleluori’s can’t be there.
“We provide assistance on a national level,” Cheryl Colleluori said. “I work with Social Work Network throughout the country just identifying those folks in need.”
The foundation has even been able to open Nick’s House, which houses cancer patients and families free of charge who are coming to Philadelphia.
Through it all, HEADstrong has now been able to hold numerous events for athletes, families and people afflicted by the disease, including HEADtable where they visit a hospital and serve themed meals nine times a year.
Another one of those events is the HEADstrong Foundation Rivalry Games.
Normally held at Widener University, the fifth annual tournament was instead at Avon Grove High School April 5.
“The only date they had available (at Widener) was Easter Saturday and a lot of the schools have Spring Break,” Cheryl Colleluori said. “Avon Grove has been very strong supporters and the parents were really into it and really committed. They couldn’t have been more supportive or welcoming.”
The tournament featured six varsity boys’ lacrosse matchups and also had JV and, for the first time ever, youth games as well during the all-day event.
“The youth of today are creative and they’re excited and they want to be part of it,” Cheryl Colleluori said. “We’ve included them this year, which is great. It gives us the ability to grow the tournament.”
The high school teams featured in the tournament included Avon Grove, the defending District 1 champion, Kennett, Marple Newtown, Perkiomen Valley, Pope John Paul II, Ridley, Shipley School, Unionville and West Chester Bayard Rustin.
It even had St. Andrews School from Delaware and Egg Harbor Township and Ocean City from New Jersey.
“The teams are responsible for fundraising for the organization,” Cheryl Colleluori said. “They sell our T-shirts and that’s their entry fee. It can equate to a senior project, or a Confirmation project or a Communion project or some type of community initiative. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
What the Colleluori family has been through is unimaginable and no set of words can describe it, but what they’ve taken away from it all and how they’ve carried through with Nick’s mission is inspiring on so many levels.
They have taken a personal tragedy and turned it into a way to give back to others going through the same struggle.
“We try to offer hope and inspiration and let people know they are not alone in their battle,” Cheryl Colleluori said. “At the end of the day, that’s what we are all about. It’s so dark and gloomy and we’re providing a little glimmer of hope and relief from the disease. We do that in memory of Nick.”
For more information or if you’d like to volunteer with the HEADstrong Foundation, please visit www.headstrong.org.