Pink the Rink gets personal

By DIANE R. CHODAN

OBSERVER Staff Writer

The Fredonia Blue Devils hockey team recently played its seventh Pink the Rink game to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. To me, it seems that the games are always played with a great deal of heart. The attention the game brings to my alma mater and the sight of hockey players in pink makes me smile; the stories of the people whose names are on the jerseys the players wear and the presentation of the jerseys after the game can bring tears.

In 2009, the members of the alumni board of which I am a member, pitched in and purchased a jersey. Instead of a specific name, it had “Alumni” printed on the back in memory of the countless alumni who have struggled with cancer. The jersey was later framed and now hangs near the entrance of the Alumni House.

My friends, Marti and Jim Webster, attended the 2011 game with me. Marti and I are both Sabres fans, so I thought she and Jim might enjoy the game.

It turned out they already had a connection with the Fredonia team. Jeff Meredith, the coach, believes his team should reach out to the community, and one project was helping senior citizens with yard work. Team members Alex Perkins and Brad Nunn had shown up at the Websters’ to help trim bushes and do some general landscaping. Jim supervised them. Marti was making jam that day, so she sent the players back with homemade jam.

By this game, it was obvious that Jim was struggling with health issues, but he still enjoyed the game. Jim passed away in December 2011.

In 2012, I had a specific reason to purchase a jersey. My youngest cousin, Wendy (Rzepkowski) Vosper, was at rest after four years of ill health that began with a diagnosis of breast cancer. That year, Wendy’s brother, Dr. Neal Rzepkowski, Marti (newly widowed), my husband and I attended the game together. I chose Brian Doust to wear a jersey for Wendy.I didn’t know him but his jersey was not yet spoken for. I liked the number 23, and his statistics looked good. Indeed, Brian scored a power play goal after picking up a rebound. Not only that, but the picture of that play was the main art for the story about the game that appeared on Fredonia’s website and in the OBSERVER.

Neal and I accepted the jersey together and thanked Brian for his efforts. I kept the jersey with the name (Rzepkowski) that Wendy and I shared growing up.

After that game, Marti decided to purchase a jersey in Jim’s memory for this year’s game, and let Coach Meredith know early on. She knew just whose jersey she wanted – either Brad Nunn’s (17) or Alex Perkins’ (11), the players who had come to help her and Jim with landscaping. Brad’s jersey was available.

This year Marti and I attended the game with Marti’s son, David Patterson, his wife, Wendy, and their daughters Kelsey and Alyssa. I was happy to wear the jersey from last year.

As we were waiting for the doors to open to the rink, Marti, as is her custom, got into a conversation with some of the people waiting in line. One of them just happened to be Brad’s mother, Suzanne. Suzanne told Marti how her son had spoken to her about meeting the Websters and Marti’s gift of jam. The joke the next year was the members of the hockey team wanted to go to the “jam lady’s house”when they volunteered.

In the same line were the parents of Alex Perkins who also wanted to meet the “jam lady.”

On a more serious note, Suzanne told Marti how proud Brad was to wear Jim’s jersey. During an intermission, Suzanne brought over the two pink scarves she had purchased for Marti and me.

We picked out our seats, and left space for Marti’s family. I sat next to a man with a pink knit hat who was attending the game with four ladies all sporting some object of pink clothing. He seemed to recognize me, but confirmed his suspicion by looking at the number on the jersey I wore. He told me he was Brian’s father, George. I later met Brian’s grandmother, Janet Moody; his mom, Joanne; his sister, Mary; and his girlfriend, Chrystal Wagner. They had flown in from Alberta, Canada to see Brian play and were staying for the game against Oswego the following night.

Though he played well, this year Brian didn’t score. Matter of factly, George told me that Brian wasn’t having as good a year as last year. Brad Nunn, on the other hand, a defenseman, scored one of Fredonia’s five goals that night.

I got to know something of Brian and his family. Both his mom and dad emphasized the importance of school for their son. Joanne told me she was glad the coach emphasizes grades.

“Brian’s competitive,”she said, “and he doesn’t want to be last on the list with grades.” She was happy that Brian, a business major, is enjoying his classes. She told me a routine that includes hockey and studying is good for her son’s focus.

George sat calmly, watching the hockey game and analyzing it while the ladies sometimes got to their feet. He told me it can be hard for young athletes to make the right decisions, especially with fine print in contracts.

He told me a little about life in Calgary. He and his neighbor share a snowblower and sometimes he has to run the machine through drifts which are higher than the machine.

For the presentation of the jersey, Marti went onto the ice with her two granddaughters. Marti is not tall. Brad is 6 feet 5 inches tall. He reached down to give her a big hug and she introduced her granddaughters. Marti and Brad agreed Jim’s influence helped him score the goal. The picture shows Brad bending with his arms around the group.

Concerned parents, athletes taught to work hard and care about others, stories of triumph in the face of disease, and caring memories – Pink the Rink is an event worth supporting.

Comments on this article may be directed to dchodan@observertoday.com