The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Chip Minemyer

November 27, 2011

Chip Minemyer | Soccer event put region's holiday spirit, athletic talents on display

— The email began: “Dear Chip, I have read the articles about the Santa Fund and hear the compassion you have for the families.

“This year, I pray you will help ...”

We have received many such requests for support during the five years of The Tribune-Democrat’s Santa Fund.

Some come from individuals who are out of work, downsized and frustrated.

Other applicants face mounting medical expenses, or are struggling on limited incomes.

Many nomination forms come to us from folks who want to make a difference for their neighbors, a family at their church, a child they noticed while volunteering at a food bank or shelter.

This year, we’ve even received two different Santa Fund requests from fathers who are in prison, men who say they have made mistakes and are haunted by how that is now affecting their children.

The easy thing would be to say, “You should have thought of that before ...”

But instead you think, “Sure, we can help ...”

And the Santa Fund is indeed a “we” operation.

Numerous groups and individuals are involved in this effort, as I’ve written often in this space. You’ll read more about them in the weeks ahead.

This year they were joined by the many who made the first Santa Fund Soccer Classic – played a week ago today at Trojan Stadium – an incredible success.

The event served as a showcase for the top senior soccer players from across the region, and raised thousands of dollars for the Santa Fund, which provides Christmas gifts for local children whose families may be struggling.

“I pray you will help ...”

From the chants of “For the kids!” by the high school all-stars to the hugs the players exchanged with Santa, the spirit of the holidays – yes, the spirit of the Santa Fund – was in full poinsettia-like bloom.

The players from across the region and the all-star coaches put on a great show of skill and athleticism – and helped raise money for a worthwhile program. The Santa Fund will provide gifts to hundreds of children who might otherwise go without.

That the South girls and boys both defeated their North counterparts seemed secondary to the good that was accomplished.

“It’s all for a good cause in the first place,” said Kelly

Beegle of Bedford High School – a member of the South squad and most valuable player for the girls game.

Conemaugh Township’s Jake Sauter, the boys game’s MVP, echoed her thoughts.

“It was for a great cause and we had a bunch of fun together,” Sauter said.

The players and coaches who participated, and the parents who supported them, deserve a huge thank-you for making the classic a success.

Here are some other folks who played big roles in the Santa Fund Soccer Classic:

-- The steering committee of Mike Kane of the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, Brian Vuletich of Greater Johnstown School District, and Eric Knopsnyder of The Tribune-Democrat. These guys pulled together the rosters, the sponsorships and all of the other critical details. Their dedication was amazing.

-- The Johnstown High Key Club, whose student members donned elf hats and jingling reindeer antlers to accept donations at the gate and to distribute game programs to those who attended.

-- The officials, who donated their time and even were good sports about wearing Santa hats while working the games.

-- School employees, who handled all of the details – concessions, tables, lights, the public address system – that made things run so smoothly.

-- The many corporate and individual donors – too many to list for fear that someone would be missed. You know who you are.

That email also said:

“Please find it in your heart to help my family. ... I simply don’t have any money left at the end of the month. It hurts seeing them struggle and not be able to help them, so I am praying that Santa will provide them an extra special Christmas this year.”

Yes, he will.

With a lot of help from local soccer players and coaches, and everyone else who had a role in the Santa Fund Soccer Classic – and all who have made contributions to the Santa Fund this year.

As the hopeful writer said:

“God bless you for what you do!”

Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.

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