Charity Games Becoming a Major Community Event in Decatur

By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI

Started three years ago to raise money for cancer research, it’s now a marquee event

What started out as a simple idea has grown into a large payday.

And it’s all for a great cause.

Decatur Youth Hockey Association (DYHA) Board of Directors member Mark Birch had a thought three years ago to hold a charity hockey event.

“Everybody’s been affected by cancer, but Mark had had a couple family members [affected by it] and he was pretty passionate about it,” said Shane Brilley, who was the DYHA hockey director at the time. “He went through it and was like, ‘Let’s raise money for somebody; let’s do the American Cancer Society. How can we give back to the alumni for doing all the voting across the country for us and everybody in town?’ It was kind of a two-fold thing for us. So, we said, ‘OK, let’s get it going.’”

The Decatur Hockey Fights Cancer Alumni Game was established.

The DYHA decided the alumni game and surrounding activities would be held the weekend following Thanksgiving, since plenty of former association hockey players travel back to Decatur to visit family. The first year in 2015 was a success as 78 alumni played in the event.

In the first two years, over $29,000 was raised for the local American Cancer Society. The organizers wanted to make the event bigger and better, shooting for the $20,000 mark in 2017. They accomplished their goal in Year 3. The association raised $20,655.48 during the event held at the Decatur Civic Center on Nov. 24 and 25.

“I think when we first started this I don’t think any of us had any idea the amount of money we would raise,” DYHA President Kim Taylor said. “Just a small association, we have 200 players. Also, to see the excitement of the alumni. To get over 70 players to come back every year, that’s pretty big from over 10 states.”

The DYHA raised its money from having alumni players purchase their jerseys for the games, admission for the event — about 300 to 400 people attended this year’s games — and auctions.

Brilley, who is the co-chair for the Decatur Hockey Fights Cancer Alumni, noted there’s also an annual 50/50 raffle and chuck-a-puck, and all the money from those activities goes toward the DYHA scholarship fund.

“The best thing for me is thinking every single cent that we bring in we will not keep,” Brilley said. “We give it to somebody else that needs it more than we need it. It’s just a great relief to know that somebody else is using it that needs it.”

The weekend for the alumni games is jam-packed with activities. The four teams for the games are broken up according to age, with the young players skating with and against one another in the junior game and the older players squaring off in the senior game.

“They come back, you can see the smiles on everybody’s faces,” Brilley said. “It’s a pretty awesome event and time.”

All the teams are able to practice on Friday and then there’s a social at a local bar that evening where there is food and the live auctions get underway. The next morning is highlighted by an open skate for all DYHA and alumni families. Later that Saturday, the two alumni games are played.

“We want to try to make it toward where we want these guys to come back every single year, because we want it to be something super cool besides raising money,” Brilley said. “We have to have the players to make the money.”

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The former DYHA players pay $40 to compete in the game, which buys them a reversible blue and white jersey to wear. The association actually loses money when a new player signs up because of the cost of the jerseys. But then the following year the player wears the same jersey and the $40 that is paid goes directly to the American Cancer Society.

The DYHA can’t run the event without the players as well as auction donations. Taylor figures over 20 local businesses and organizations provided items this year. The NHL is a huge supporter of the event, supplying generally about 10 pieces of memorabilia.

For any association around the country looking to start up a similar event, Taylor encourages the organizers to reach out to their communities.

“Make sure the community is aware of the event,” Taylor said. “Definitely make sure you reach out to your local American Cancer Society, because they have been key in helping get it going. They provided volunteers to help us staff the event and they worked behind the scenes in all the preparation. Definitely partner with your community resources that are there.”

Brilley and Taylor are thrilled the Decatur Hockey Fights Cancer Alumni Game has taken off and been such a success during the first three years. The DYHA is just getting started with the event.

“We were worried after Year 1, ‘Oh, maybe the newness will wear off and people won’t want to come back.’ But that’s not happened yet,” Taylor said. “We still get questions, ‘Are we doing it again next year? Are we doing it again next year?’ And people email us with different ideas. ‘Hey, have you thought about this for the next year?’ People are still excited about it at Year 3, so hopefully that kind of enthusiasm continues.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

Categories: Alumni in the News, featured, Hockey Headlines, Players in the News

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