EL SEGUNDO, CA — As reported in this space on August 7, National Hockey League teams do a significant amount of philanthropic work to support various causes throughout each season and during each off-season as well, raising millions of dollars for a slew of worthy causes.
On August 16, a charity hockey game was played at the practice facility of the Los Angeles Kings, the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. But this game was not sponsored by the Kings or the NHL, nor was it sponsored by any business, corporation or even a non-profit organization.
Rather, what made this game unique was that it was sponsored by an informal group of Kings fans, the 2,300-plus member Knights of the Forum group on Facebook. The game benefitted Be The Match, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping blood cancer and other patients get the life-saving bone marrow or cord blood transplants they desperately need.
The game drew a sell-out crowd, and raised a staggering $20,240, which includes receipts from ticket sales, donations, the auction of hockey memorabilia, and matching funds, blowing their preliminary estimates out of the water.
The game was competitive, ending in a respectable 6-5 score. Fans cheered when goals were scored and when a big save was made—they seemed to thoroughly enjoy watching hockey in August.
But even though the focus was on the ice, the real story wasn’t. For that, one had to look off the ice, and beyond the walls of the Toyota Sports Center.
“It’s all about Be The Match,” said Chris Brito, one of the main organizers of the event. “That’s the most important thing. Tanner Raboin—we’re doing this in his name, along with the rest of the people who need bone marrow [transplants]. It’s just a really important cause to me, and a lot of other people.”
(For more on Tanner Raboin and his story, check out Charity Hockey Game Expected To Raise More Than $10,000 For National Bone Marrow Matching Program)
“It’s hard, because I sit with Steve Raboin, Tanner’s father, [at Kings games],” added Brito. “I’ve known him for years. He’s family to me. When Tanner passed, it hit home how important this was for everybody to do, and I think everybody on the ice knows what we’re playing for. That’s the only reason we’re out there. Losing Tanner was hard, so let’s not have another family go through that.”
“If all this game does, aside from raising badly needed funds, is save one life, it will have been worth the effort. Even if we only get one [bone marrow] match from this game, I’ll be happy.”
Once the idea for the charity game was floated among the members of the Knights of the Forum, the response was immediate and overwhelming.
“It caught me off guard,” said Brito. “I honestly didn’t think this game would blow up the way it did. A lot of people wanted to play, and it was a little mind-blowing. My head’s just spinning. It was like, ‘wow!’ We had full rosters within three days. It was surprising and very heartwarming to see all these people step up. It was amazing.”
“This particular group really demonstrates what ‘family’ means,” said Mike Gonzalez, founder of the Knights of the Forum, and one of the main organizers of the charity game. “For years, the Kings have been there for us, though thick and thin. They’ve done amazing things, both good and bad. Out of that, a lot of us are part of this extended family, or close friends.”
That this group of fans has such a strong bond with one another was very much apparent as the game came together.
“I was working a lot, but I had so many other people who were on the staff,” said Gonzalez. “They worked so hard to put this game together. They treated me like we’ve known each other forever—like we’ve all been childhood friends.”
“These people are fantastic,” added Gonzalez. “You couldn’t ask for a better group of people.”
As Steve Raboin walked around the Toyota Sports Center during the game, if he wasn’t smiling at a particular moment, that would change rather quickly.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “To see these fans blossom into professional advocates for Be The Match is very rewarding. It’s been a dream of mine, since Tanner passed, to keep his memory alive and most importantly, to make sure that Be The Match increases their numbers [in the bone marrow registry]. So, to say that I’m very proud would be an understatement. I couldn’t be more proud.”
“It is kind of hard to believe,” he added. “It’s amazing that these people would step up and ask to do this in honor of my son, and I try to deflect a lot of that, because it’s not about me. It’s really not about Tanner anymore. It’s about the people who need Be The Match now.”
“The bigger story is Be The Match. But to see this ‘family’ come together like this—it’s a bunch of friends and family. It’s amazing. They all have big hearts. They see the bigger picture. It’s bringing in good dollars for Be The Match, and that’s what’s important. Each one of those swab kits we take in needs $100.00 to [process] it, so the fundraisers are very important.”
Brito, Gonzalez and the rest of the organizing committee worked to extend their “family,” trying to bring in as much support as they possibly could, and the hard work really paid off.
For starters, the Toyota Sports Center pitched in.
“We can’t be anymore grateful to Brad Sholl and the staff at the Toyota Sports Center,” said Gonzalez. “They made ice time available at no charge to us. They even donated on-ice officials, scorekeepers, Zamboni drivers—all the staff needed to support a hockey game.”
Then came a flood of corporate sponsors.
“I worked to get matching donations from companies I used to work for, and that I have a good relationship with,” Brito explained. “It’s just unreal how many stepped up to the plate. Between the online auction [of autographed hockey memorabilia], the matching donations, and the ticket sales, it’s unreal.”
Corporate sponsors offering donations and/or matching funds included Bauer Hockey, British Airways, Darden Restaurants, Inc., Delta Airlines, DirecTV, Hawaiian Host, Inc., MGM Grand Resorts, Norwegian Cruise Lines, SkyWest Airlines, and Southwest Airlines.
“Julie Korinke [from Be The Match] told me that she would go to events, and they would raise $20.00 or $30.00, and she would get so discouraged,” Gonzalez noted. “I told her, ‘we’re going to do much better than that.’ She said, ‘are you sure?’ I said, ‘trust me. We’re going to do fantastic,’ and I think we did.”
Indeed, Korinke, a Community Engagement Representative for Be The Match, had very different emotions this time around.
“I remember when they first came to me with this idea,” she recalled. “They thought it was just going to be a small hockey game, but it’s turned into so much more than that. I never could’ve imagined how big today was going to be, or how successful it was going to be. I’m just so impressed and grateful.”
“It’s because everyone’s taking it so seriously today,” she added. “It’s more than just a casual game. People recognize what this means, and what it’s all about. They’ve taken today seriously, from the amount of practice they’ve put in to how they’ve spread the word to their friends and families. It’s definitely a high level of involvement.”
Smiling ear-to-ear, Korinke said that she was blown away by the commitment of everyone involved.
“I am just so grateful to all the people who made today happen, from the players to the coaches to the volunteers who’ve been bringing in the donations and the auction items,” she beamed. “Everyone is so dedicated to what this game is really all about, which is helping our patients who are searching for a match, who are searching for hope. Every single person who’s been involved with this event really gets that and sees the mission here. They’ve made it a really special day. The amount of hours that these volunteers have put in to make this day happen is amazing.”
“This is why I love my job—moments like today. Working with these people, seeing how dedicated they are, how connected they are to this work, it inspires me and reinvigorates me.”
As Korinke alluded to, as important as raising funds was, raising awareness of the need to add more and more people to the bone marrow donor database is critical.
“People don’t know about Be The Match,” Brito lamented. “When [ABC/ESPN reporter] Robin Roberts was diagnosed with cancer, that was the first time Be The Match was brought up in the mainstream media, but it dropped off after that. We want to bring awareness that the swabbing [inside the cheek to collect DNA for bone marrow matching] is available, and it takes less than three minutes. Swab your cheek and you could save a life.”
Contributing towards saving lives was foremost in the minds of several of the players.
“Meeting Steve and Tim [Raboin], and learning about Tanner, really hit home for me, with my family, so I really wanted to be a part of this event,” said an emotional Amber Lynette Hall, 22, a native of Clovis, California who now lives in Lakewood, California. “My Mom has cancer, my Dad has cancer—three people in my family had cancer. Luckily, two of them survived, so anything like that really hits home for me, and I wanted to do anything I could to help the Raboin family.”
“That’s the number one thing—the cause,” said Bret Nelson, 51, from Culver City, California. “It’s about how many people we can help.”
Joining the “team” for the festivities were Kings alumni, Daryl Evans, Jim Fox, Bernie Nicholls and retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers, who served as the athletic trainer for both teams during the game.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Demers. “Any time you can make a contribution to an effort like this, it’s very much worthwhile.”
Demers said the game was also an indication of how much hockey has grown in Southern California.
“It means the growth of hockey around Southern California is great,” he noted. “On top of that, as far as the fans go, they realized that they had an opportunity to come out and support the effort and the cause.”
To say that the game was an overwhelming success would be badly understating things. Even Demers noted that, and when asked if he thought things could’ve turned out any better, he replied, “only if it was played at Dodger Stadium,” a reference to the Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium between the Anaheim Ducks and the Kings on January 25, 2014.
Given that success, thoughts are already turning towards more charity games in the future.
“This was a jumping off point for us,” said Brito. “When I first came up with this idea, I thought, ‘OK. Maybe a one-time thing. Maybe 100 people will show up. I’ll be happy.’ But looking at this now, this is first game, but it won’t be the last, for sure.”
But how do they top what they’ve just accomplished?
“I’d be happy if [a future game] turned out just as well as this one did, raising the same amount of money,” said Brito. “It’s not about [the play on the ice]. I mean, I enjoyed the game. But it’s really all about Be The Match.”
You can help by registering with Be The Match online. Click on: Be The Match.
More Knights of the Forum Charity Game Coverage
- Teamwork Was One Of The Big Stories At Charity Hockey Game Benefitting Be The Match
- Charity Hockey Game Expected To Raise More Than $10,000 For National Bone Marrow Matching Program
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