George Schmeider has a reputation for helping others in need. Now that he needs help, his family and friends have no problem stepping up to the plate.
“This is a man who is all about living life,” said Deb Franco, one of Schmeider’s sisters.
Schmeider, a longtime coach at Warwick Vets who’s known for making a positive impact on the community through helping children, has played a key role in Warwick sports for years. He’s been affiliated with the Oakland Beach Boys & Girls Club, local adult softball leagues, as well as Gorton Junior High School and Vets High, where he’s coached wrestling and football.
Sadly, he has been hospitalized since Aug. 6 after suddenly becoming ill. Doctors originally diagnosed him with tick-borne encephalitis, however, retracted the diagnosis soon after. His ailment is yet to be diagnosed and he is currently being treated at Massachusetts General Hospital in Cambridge, where he is in a coma.
To help finance his hospital bills and lend a hand to his wife Toni and their four children, his loved ones have organized a rag ball tournament and family fun day at City Park this Saturday, which kicks off at 8 a.m.
More than 26 Rhode Island teams of 10 have signed up to participate, with a $20 entry fee per player. They will play under two separate leagues – one comprised of 16 competitive teams, and 10 non-competitive.
They decided on the rag ball theme because Schmeider, along with his friends, has been playing the sport since 2006. It is similar to softball, yet requires a fabric ball.
“That’s one of his loves,” Schmeider’s sister Jayne Hurst said. “Everybody has really stepped up, even as far as local organizations. The city of Warwick is helping us set up and they have been amazing.”
According to Hurst and her husband Chuck, who along with Schmeider’s sisters and countless others have helped plan the tournament, Dave Picozzi, acting director of the Department of Public Works, has agreed to allow his employees to set up picnic tables and portable toilets for the event.
Other family members and friends of Schmeider, such as Gary Costantino, Deb Colicci, Misty Lourenco, Jason Wendoloski, Kevin Hennessey and Craig Andreozzi have also been helping plan the event.
“Those guys have been working really hard,” said Jayne.
Additionally, the tournament will feature live bands, activities for children, plus food. Staff members from Rhody Joe’s, a restaurant in Wakefield, will be on site selling pulled pork sliders, homemade chips, seafood chowder and chili. They plan to donate 100 percent of the money raised to the cause. Several other local businesses made product donations, as well, which Schmeider’s family is thankful for.
Also, there will be raffles for items such as gift certificates, gift cards, movie passes, and even an autographed New York Jets football.
Speaking of football, Schmeider’s son, George Jr., 17, is a member of the Vets football team, as well as the wrestling team. He said the Nov. 3 home football game will be dedicated in honor of his father.
George Jr., who designed rubber wristbands for the event, said he’s looking forward to both the game and Saturday’s tournament.
“I think it’s great because I think he would want this,” he said. “If someone he knew was down and out, he would do the same. He has an unbelievably big heart and is one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever met in my life. He loves to preach character and probably has the best character of anyone I know.”
The wristbands, which will be available at the event for $3 apiece, express Schmeider’s love for Oakland Beach, the area he was raised, as they read, “Where the debris meets the sea.”
“He’s proud of where he grew up,” said Schmeider’s relative Denise Mulligan-Amirault.
Chuck agreed and recalled a time he was away with Schmeider in Nebraska and an odd man on the street approached them saying, “Where do you want to spend eternity?”
“George turned around and said, ‘Oakland Beach, buddy!’” Chuck said.
All joking aside, Schmeider was experiencing an extremely painful headache and a high fever during the beginning of August and decided to get checked out at Kent Hospital after returning from the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympics in Houston, Texas.
He thought he had been bitten by a bug and wanted to seek treatment just to be safe. He figured he’d be in and out, as he was preparing to fly to Las Vegas to be the best man in his friend’s wedding.
“The hospital was going to keep him for IV antibiotics, but the following morning he went into flash pulmonary edema and has not woken up ever since,” said Franco, who happens to be a nurse at Kent. “He thought he was going for antibiotics and then getting on a plane and going to Vegas for his friend’s wedding.”
Within a week, he was transferred to Rhode Island Hospital, where doctors continued to run tests. They thought he might be suffering from Hasimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease that impacts the thyroid, but they treated him for it to no avail. All blood work and spinal taps came back negative.
From there, he was sent to Spaulding Rehabilitation in Braintree, Mass.
“They were looking for something viral or bacterial,” Franco said. “The problem was the fact that we did not have a definitive diagnosis and his fevers and white blood cells were fluctuating.”
Now, Schmeider is at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he’s been there for at least two weeks. The most recent test results indicate he has an infection in his brain, but doctors do not know the source.
Though they are frustrated and sad, his loved ones are focused on making the event a success.
“It’s more than just a rag ball tournament,” Mulligan-Amirault said. “We know that times are tough and the economy is bad, but we want to celebrate him and raise money to help his family with the costs that they have acquired due to his treatment.”
Chuck agreed and said, “Come play some rag ball and bring your checkbook. The more people, the better.”
To make a donation, contact Hurst at 401-301-0985 or Mulligan- Amirault at 401-499-4387.