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Bellport’s HEADstrong Foundation fundraiser tournament seeks to give players perspective

Sunday, 25th March 2012

Categories Boy's/Men's, HEADstrong, High school  

By Jeffrey Bessen, Posted 3/25/12

It’s all about perspective.

Young people, especially athletes think that they are impervious to injury or illness until, of course, they are injured or become ill.

Unfortunately, reality was brought home to the Bellport lacrosse community, when an eighth grade girl just lost her two-year battle with leukemia. “It hits home a bit,” said Colleen Tew, the mother of Bellport High School varsity player Patrick Tew.

Colleen and Lorraine Nickla were two of many parents who helped at the concession stand and selling T-shirts Saturday at the inaugural Bellport lacrosse fundraiser organized by Clipper varsity head coach Justin White for the HEADstrong Foundation.

They began their day at 7 a.m. to prepare. “A lot of the parents volunteered and donated items, along with local businesses,” said Nickla, whose son Hayden is a varsity Clipper and older son Jack plays lax in college.

A Commack player looks toward the goal vs. Liverpool during Saturday's HEADstrong Foundation fundraiser at Bellport (Photo by Jeffrey Bessen)

Calling several of his college buddies, who are also now coaching varsity lacrosse teams, White put together a six-hour event that featured 11 teams playing exhibition lacrosse games across four fields at the Bellport High School campus. There were also raffles, including a 50-50 cash prize.

In addition to the Long Island schools Bayport-Blue Point, Center Moriches, Commack, Deer Park, Middle Country, Miller Place and Sachem East, teams came from Pelham and Rye, both in Westchester County and Liverpool from Syracuse.

Prior to the teams playing on that Saturday, the players were out in their communities selling the HEADstrong “Relentless” T-Shirts. “It gives them a little perspective, not taking things for granted seeing that there are things bigger than themselves,” White said. “It helps with the maturation process.”

A former lax goalie, White waited to help make a save of another kind as he sought to put together a fundraiser. He conducted some research and found out about HEADstrong. “It was started by a lacrosse player, so what better way to raise money for a good cause,” he said.

HEADstrong Foundation was created by Nicholas “Head” Colleluori, a Pennsylvania-raised three-sport star at Ridley High School, who played lax at Hofstra University on Long Island. As a freshman, he played in all 16 games, earning a spot in the Pride’s starting lineup and playing substantial minutes on the squad’s man-down unit.

However, toward the end of that season in 2005, Colleluori began having difficulty hearing out of his right ear. His inflamed adenoids were removed, but tests revealed he had large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It is a blood cancer that affects the body’s lymphatic system.

During the last 14 months of his life, Colleluori laid the foundation for the charity organization operated by his family. Colleluori died on Nov. 28, 2006.

At the organization’s website,, there is information on how teams and organization can organize fundraising events. The HEADstrong Foundation – which first gained popularity for its lime green laces and for holding the Nick Colleluori Classic – has spread its mission of defeating blood cancer throughout the lacrosse community and now runs or sponsors dozens of events a year. It has raised $2.7 million for blood cancer research.

White called and was in contact with Colleluori’s brother Michael, also a Hofstra grad who played lacrosse.

“I spoke to him and he suggested what they’ve done, and I took that and ran with it and made our own thing that hopefully will be annual thing,” White said.

That would be fine for Tew and Nickla, whose sons will be seniors next year. “We are looking forward to making it bigger and better, we were rookies this year,” Tew said. “We learned a lot and now have T-shirts we can sell at half price,” Nickla said with smile.

If two mothers have that kind of perspective what should the players learn? “The kids know what it is about, appreciating all that they have,” White said.



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