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A year ago, members of the St. Bonaventure men's lacrosse team set a seemingly ambitious goal of raising $5,000 for the support of families affected by cancer.
Players and coaches grew mustaches in October and November as part of the Lacrosse Mustache Madness program, taking donations for a charitable foundation supporting those battling the disease.
Soon, though, team members realized they needed a new goal.
"We joined this last year as an organic thing and it completely blew up," St. Bonaventure assistant coach Nico Capron said.
The goal of $5,000 was easily surpassed in just over 24 hours. Within two days they had doubled the total.
Ultimately, the Bonnies raised nearly $15,000 for the HEADstrong Foundation created by Hofstra University men's lacrosse player Nick Colleluori, who lost his battle with cancer in 2006. Among 96 teams participating in the fundraising challenge, St. Bonaventure finished top-five nationally in most funds raised.
An effort that stretches across the entire lacrosse world, the HEADstrong Foundation offers financial, residential and emotional support to families impacted by the disease. The organization works to provide resources for patients and their families who are receiving care nationwide. Each Bonnies player participating has his own donation page and the team has its own donation page as well. All donations go directly to families affected by cancer.
While the Bonnies have a goal of surpassing $15,000 raised this year as a team, the HEADstrong Foundation aims to raise $315,000 nationally to represent the 315,000 American families who will be touched by a cancer diagnosis this fall. The campaign runs through Nov. 30, the Bonnies began accepting donations earlier this month and are already over $7,000 raised. As of Oct. 16, the Bonnies were second in the country in donations raised, behind only the University of Maryland. Freshman Cam Germain leads all individuals nationally by raising over $3,000 through his personal donation page.
With a cause that hits so close to home for so many, the efforts instantly drew the Bonnies closer together.
"It was an incredible thing, all of our guys sharing their stories of family members or friends impacted by cancer," Capron said. "It was an opportunity to give back to the community and also just be empathetic with people out there struggling and help some people out that are going through this."
Throughout the team, stories came in of players and coaches who knew those close to them fighting the disease. That includes junior Matthew DeGirolamo whose brother was diagnosed with leukemia last year. As last year's fundraiser went on, it became clear that the support went beyond just those in the locker room.
"Every single person has been touched by cancer," DeGirolamo said. "It was nice seeing how everyone took it as a priority. It showed how close our team is and the entire Bonnies community is. We had alums donating to the cause, not just family members and friends. Alumni who haven't even met us were donating."
The support of Bona Nation underscores the Franciscan mission of St. Bonaventure and the values graduates leave with following their time at the University.
"We try to parallel this as much as possible to the mission statement of the university," Capron said. "Nurturing and compassion are two of the biggest things. Every day someone near you is battling something you might not know anything about. This is an opportunity to give back and hopefully, it snowballs and carries longer in their lives and they pass this down to their children and grandchildren."
The continued outpouring of support from those around the lacrosse world also showed the impact the program is having on those in need.
"It was very touching and shocking. You always get told how close the lacrosse community is, but the HEADstrong organization shows how close-knit everyone is," DeGirolamo said. "I saw people who coached me when I was 5 or 10 years old putting in money and doing what they can."
While the initial shock of a cancer diagnosis and the resulting effects of treatment are first considered by most people, the toll of medical bills can have devastating and long-lasting impacts on victims and their families.
"Being from Canada, we are lucky to have universal health care, but if you don't have that, the costs can be astronomical," DeGirolamo said. "Just knowing firsthand and seeing the stories on HEADstrong I can put myself in that position and understand how much this means to these families."
With COVID-19 impacting everyone around the world this year, the Mustache Madness fundraiser takes on added importance. Those fighting cancer are included in high-risk categories for the virus due to their immune systems becoming compromised by both the disease and treatments to combat it.
"Now something like this fundraiser can have an even bigger impact because of COVID; the massive impact the virus can have on people that are immuno-compromised," Capron said.
And while the mustache look may suit some more than others, the end result is worth some players looking a bit scruffy for the next month.
"A number of guys have picked up Just For Men to darken it up a bit," Capron joked. "Guys joke with each other about it, but at the end of the day, it is for a really good cause. We raised just short of $15,000 last year and hopefully eclipse that by far and raise the bar again."
To support the Bonnies with a donation, visit: https://pledge.headstrong.org/team/323435
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