CB East’s Coaches vs. Cancer basketball event on Saturday capped a series of events that raised close to $70,000 for the American Cancer Society. To view photos of Saturday’s event, please visit the Photo Gallery.
By Mary Jane Souder
Central Bucks East’s pep rally last Friday evoked thoughts of more than just the Patriots’ game later that day against rival Central Bucks South.
“We were sitting in the auditorium and we were thinking, ‘This is 1,600 reasons to keep fighting (against cancer),’” senior Kate Hastings said.
The Central Bucks East community had already lost one of its own when brain cancer claimed the life of freshman Morgan Mysza in January of 2012, and if anyone in attendance at East’s Coaches vs. Cancer basketball event on Saturday needed one more reason to keep fighting the deadly disease, Central Bucks West senior Katie Gaebel gave it to them.
The diminutive Gaebel spoke to a full house at halftime of the benefit game between the CB East and CB West seniors, and she had an attentive audience as she shared the heartbreaking story of, at the age of eight, losing her mother to brain cancer and – just two weeks ago – losing her stepmother to gastric carcinoma.
“My grandma always tells me to never use the word ‘hate’ because it’s such a strong word, so I’m sorry grams, but I HATE cancer,” she told the crowd. “I had my mom for eight years and my stepmom for seven.
“Cancer took both of them away from my family and I, and it continues to take the lives of so many other wonderful people each day.”
Gaebel went on to say that her life experiences have taught her to always be grateful.
“My favorite saying is ‘count your blessings, not your problems,’” she said. “I’ve come back to school since my stepmom passed.
“Every day I walk into a hall filled with kids complaining about how they won’t have a Valentine on Valentine’s Day. That’s when I think, ‘Well, some people won’t have a dad on Father’s Day. Some won’t have a mom on Mother’s Day.’ My losses have shaped me in a way and gave me a different perspective.”
Through the experiences, Gaebel has been inspired by the response of the community to her family’s tragedy.
“It’s amazing what this community can do when we all come together,” she told the crowd in attendance. “This room is filled with people wanting to make a difference.
“My family is an example of strength, along with the many other families that have been affected by cancer. And, of course, both my moms, the two strongest women I have ever known. We are all proof that our strength is stronger than any cancer will EVER be. And I pray each day that someday soon our strength will prevail and find the cure we need to stop cancer.
“But until then, we all need to keep fighting and do what we can to reach our goal. I know we can make it. Cancer has not won. And it never will.”
Gaebel had been contacted to speak at Saturday’s event by Hastings, who along senior Danny Reilly led a committee of students that spearheaded East’s Coaches vs. Cancer fundraiser this year. The West senior was a perfect tie-in during an event that this year highlighted the East-West rivalry.
“Kate asked me because these past few months my story spread around the community and so many people have been helping my family,” Gaebel said. “At the time, my stepmom was still living, and they actually gave her a few months to live.”
Those few months didn’t happen, and Gaebel’s stepmother passed away on Jan. 23.
“Kate came to me again and said, ‘If you don’t want to speak, I understand,’” Gaebel recalled. “I said, ‘You know what – my mom and stepmom would probably want me to speak.’
“I want to be able to share my experiences and give everyone else a different view on life. I told both my mom and my stepmom that I’m going to leave my own mark on the world, and I’m going to make a difference.”
While Gaebel is doing just that, the West senior has a whole lot of company as she strives to make a difference. Saturday’s event confirmed as much as East raised close to $70,000 that will be donated to the American Cancer Society, far surpassing the committee’s goal of $50,000.
“We were really impressed,” Reilly said. “We count on the $20,000 from Johnson & Johnson to start us off, so $50,000 is usually an attainable goal.
“We certainly were not expecting this much. That was incredible when we got that final total. Everyone was thrilled.”
In the six years since the program began, Central Bucks East has raised over $250,000 to fight cancer.
“The fact that this year we’ve reached the quarter million dollar mark – that’s our greatest legacy being involved in this program,” Reilly said. “That’s a remarkable amount of money we’ve raised in the six years we’ve been doing this, and it’s only going to go up.”
Saturday’s event – with non-stop activities from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – featured a 3-on-3 tournament in the morning followed by afternoon basketball games pitting – in addition to the West versus East seniors - the West versus East teachers and the East teachers versus the East seniors. There also were numerous raffle baskets as well as a silent auction. An addition this year was a Twitter board.
It all added up to a day that was an unqualified success.
“Everybody was here at 7 a.m. moving boxes and setting up,” said Mike Reilly, a representative of Johnson & Johnson and an adult advisor. “That makes it a lot easier.
“Every year there’s a new twist. This year we did more social media.”
Another new twist was incorporating the East-West rivalry.
“When you tie in the East-West rivalry, it brings the East kids out and seeing all the West kids was just really inspirational,” Hastings said. “This year’s crowd is exponentially larger than in the past.
“It’s just so gratifying to see everyone come together and be supportive of this cause. It’s five hours a week (for the committee) for six months. It’s a lot of work to put in, but it’s so worth it seeing the success of today.”
Providing motivation is the memory of Mysza and, more recently, Katie Gaebel’s story.
“It just makes us realize that everyone in some way has been affected by cancer,” Hastings said.
“Those are two stories that are really close to the community,” Danny Reilly added. “We’re all touched by that, and it’s close to our hearts and to our community and to the people who are here today.”
Hastings has been involved in Coaches vs. Cancer for the last two years while Reilly has been part of it for four.
“By far the best days of my high school career are the four times I’ve been involved in this event and coming here and seeing it all come together,” Reilly said. “Especially this year being a senior and being a leader with Kate – it is really remarkable for us.
This year - for the first time - a $5,000 scholarship will be awarded to a CB East senior who embodies the spirit of Morgan Mysza. The selection will be based on the following criteria: 1) demonstrates character and integrity, 2) is active in community service, 3) academic and athletic excellence and 4) has displayed courage in the face of adversity.
“I’m so thankful for the community that I’ve grown up in,” Hastings said. “I really don’t think this much support comes anywhere else but Central Bucks.
“This year we had more younger kids, more teenagers and more adults, and that again is just another testament to how amazing our community is. It was really gratifying to see that.”
2013 Coaches vs. Cancer Student Committee
Kate Hastings ‘13
Danny Reilly ‘13
David Stauffer ‘13
Sean Usowski ‘13
Anja Fenner ‘14
Bennett Kardane ‘14
Brendan O’Neil ‘14
Caroline Shields ‘14
Courtney Webster ‘14
Karoline White ‘14
Lauren Burrell ‘15
Moira Devlin ‘15
Michelle Iaquinto ‘15
Carter Usowski ‘15