Local Spotlight

Local Spotlight: More than just a soccer match on Sunday in Bethlehem

Photo: Bethlehem Steel FC. Charlie Reyman in the gold-colored warmups and armband Steel will wear Sunday against Pittsburgh Riverhounds

On Sunday, September 24th Bethlehem Steel FC host in-state rival Pittsburgh Riverhounds in a match worth more than just three points.

September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month and the color Gold is used to bring attention to the important issue. Steel FC players and staff have “gone gold” on social media by changing profile pictures to a gold themed logo to raise awareness about pediatric cancer. The Gold campaign hopes to raise awareness and funds specifically for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley (PCFLV).

“I think anybody would break a hand off to do this,” concluded Chambers.

The Gold will be on full display Sunday afternoon. Steel FC players will wear gold warm-up shirts along with gold armbands. In addition to awareness for pediatric cancer, Bethlehem Steel FC will also be contributing dollars and cents. A special ticket package offers General Admission tickets for $15, with $8 from every ticket going directly to the PCFLV. Along the concourse at Goodman Stadium there will be a silent auction conducted for the players’ special gold equipment with all proceeds going straight to PCFLV as well.

Steel FC players team up for a fantastic cause

A few weeks back, Steel FC players and staff first learned of the idea that had already been in the works between the Bethlehem front office and PCFLV: a “Gold Match” to honor children affected by pediatric cancer as well as their families – and a post-match pizza party. Earlier this week, the team received packets of information detailing the medical journeys of each child associated with PCFLV. The players immediately bought into this initiative and began asking how they could help.

“I thought it was a fantastic idea really when I first heard of it. It’s always good when we can do something for the kids and their families,” said James Chambers, #45, Steel FC captain.

Chambers will be playing Sunday’s match in honor of Sherlyn. Once back home in Ireland, Chambers was able to visit some fans in local hospitals but Sunday will be something new and incredibly meaningful for the Irishman. “Most of the boys here have tried to reach out this week to the families. We’re really excited first and foremost for the match, but also for the post-match meal,” said Chambers.

Photo courtesy of Bethlehem Steel FC. Chris Nanco and James Chambers pose while wearing the special gold warmups for match benefiting PCFLV.

Chambers was an instrumental figure when it came to planning the much anticipated post-match pizza party. He made sure there would be time for the players to interact and  converse with the children and their families – something all parties are undoubtedly excited to be a part of..

When Chambers discussed his hospital visits in Ireland, he mentioned that his meetings with people were often all too brief. He would meet with one family and the next minute be meeting another. Sunday will be different. “I’ll have more of a chance to talk with the families and the children. End of the day we may be soccer players but we’re still human and I think anybody would break a hand off to do this,” concluded Chambers.

“I am really excited, actually, to be honest” said Josh Heard, #40, Midfielder. “It’s incredibly special.  It’s not every day you get to do something like this,” he continued.

Heard will be playing in honor of Ben W.  Ben, 13 years old, lives in Bethlehemand is in 8th grade. He was diagnosed with Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) Pre-B Leukemia just before his second birthday in 2006.  Despite the diagnosis, Ben remains an avid sports fan and player. He loves baseball, football, and especially soccer.  He currently plays for the Greater Bethlehem Soccer League, and will likely be paying close attention to Josh Heard during Sunday’s match as he looks to pick up tips and tricks.

“Nobody deserves to go through things like this.  As long as we, as a team, can help make a kid’s [Ben’s] day a little bit better – and for the families as well – it’s special,” said Heard.

Chris Nanco, #37, will be playing in honor of a PCFLV sponsored child by the name of Jeremiah W. Only seven years old, Jeremiah has fought one hell of a battle so far in life. At age two he was diagnosed with Wilms Tumor. His family later received word that the cancer had spread to young Jeremiah’s lungs; intensive chemo and radiation began.  Long months went by as the hospital became his family’s second residence. Jeremiah’s story is hopeful: He is four years cancer free. He wants to be a coach one day, and it seems he has the will power to achieve that goal.

Sunday’s match will have playoff implications with Steel FC hovering around the red line, but for Nanco and the rest of the Steel players and staff, it also represents more, much more.

“I think it will bring awareness to Bethlehem as a whole, we’re here to help out in anyway possible,” said Nanco.  “We’re raising awareness for PCFLV and it is always good to meet the families and hang out, talk with the children and just hear what they are going through,” he continued.  “Our guys responded to it [the Gold match idea] well. Great idea to give back, and the kids look up to us.”

Organizational effort from top to bottom

The Steel coaching staff and front office are also excited to interact with the children and families.

“Sunday’s match is a great opportunity for our players and club to give back to the community,” Head Coach Brendan Burke said.  “Everyone on the squad can’t wait to meet the kids that they have been waiting for now weeks to meet after reading each of their remarkable journeys.”

Last season’s successful Gold Match event served as a springboard when compiling the requirements for a similar initiative this season.

“The staff has done an amazing job brainstorming for this match,” said Scott Evans, Managing Director of  Steel FC.  “From the warm-ups and armbands, to the players changing their social handles, to the events planned for the afternoon, they really left no stone unturned.”

Another idea thought up for Sunday’s match is a silent auction. Steel FC held a successful silent auction featuring patriotic armbands and the hope is that this weekend will produce similar results. “We as an organization purchased the warm-ups and arm bands in order to raise money through the Silent Auction,” said Evans. “The staff felt it was a unique way to raise additional funds for PCFLV, while providing our fans more chances to win,” Evans said. “Gio Fricchione, Emily Edwards, Tom Via, Chris Dillon, and Rory Muth have really made this a special day,” he added.

Photo courtesy of PCFLV Logo. PCFLV and Bethlehem Steel FC team up for the children.

PCFV + Bethlehem Steel FC

The  Keystone piece to the entire event during Sunday’s rivalry match is the partnership between the Steel FC front office and the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley.

PCFLV is a local, 501(c)3 non-profit organization that supports the entire family battling pediatric cancer. It provides individual assistance based on the needs of families and hosts events for families to participate in fun and engaging activities free of charge. These gatherings create a place for parents and kids to find support within the pediatric cancer community. PCFLV also makes visits to the inpatient pediatric floor at Lehigh Valley Health Network, armed with an array of arts and crafts, gifts, entertainment, and food to distract children during their treatment. More information can be found at pcflv.org.

“This month, September, is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, and we have been reaching out with many companies throughout the Lehigh Valley,” said Tracy Stauffer, Marketing and Community Relations Coordinator for PCFLV.  “Bethlehem Steel FC couldn’t be more fantastic.  They’re so excited – we are too – for the game!”

The excitement level exhibited by these professional soccer players should be highlighted once more. Tom Via II, Bethlehem Steel FC Communications Coordinator was the man with the PCFLV child info packets the players were so eagerly anticipating.

“The players were so excited. They kept asking when they’ll be getting the packets. When I handed them out the players opened and read everything immediately,” Via said, “They were asking how they could reach out.”

Stauffer understands how Via must be feeling this past week as she has experienced the players’ anticipation too. “It is safe to say the Steel FC players jumped into this idea with two feet. The players are tweeting about it. They are also asking us questions about this child or that child and what they are like,” Stauffer said.

All the time and commitment that was exerted toward planning this event will be worth it just to witness the beautiful moment that occurs prior to kickoff: The PCFLV children, paired with their Steel FC player-buddies, will walk onto the green pitch at Goodman Stadium before what could very well be the largest crowd of the 2017 season. After escorting the players onto the pitch, the children will watch an intense battle for that final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Steel FC want to win because it matters for the playoffs, and because it is a rivalry game.

But there is no doubt they will also be be motivated by the cheers of the children they have come to know through their stories. After all, a pizza party is always more fun after a win.

One Comment

  1. Well done, Matt. Thank you.

    There are no words.

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