The ties that bind high school teams together can be pretty tight. A group of Pilgrim High School alumni have learned over the last few months that the ties can be lasting too.
Over the summer, the U.S. women’s soccer team’s performance at the Olympics sparked several former Pilgrim soccer players to start reminiscing about their high school days on Facebook. They toyed with the idea of getting back together for an alumni game.
When they started organizing, they watched their idea turn into something big. The Giving Game will raise money for the foundations named in honor of Bella DiPalma and Elanna Zuller, the Pilgrim soccer players who died in a car accident last year. More than 30 former Pats have committed to play in the game and help the cause.
The game is scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m. at Pilgrim. A brunch at Gridiron Alehouse and Grill on Post Road will follow at 10:30. Tickets are $15 for the game and the brunch, and they are available online at givinggamephs.org. They can also be purchased at the gate.
Proceeds will go the Bella DiPalma 23 Foundation and the Elanna Zuller Memorial Sports Fund. Donations can be made online or at the game.
“It’s been amazing to see the support,” said Jenn Calcagni O’Neill, one of the organizers. “It’s the same team building we used to do with pizza parties and that kind of thing. Everybody has been so receptive to it.”
The idea had humble beginnings. O’Neill was watching the Olympics with her young daughter and posting on Facebook. Several friends and former teammates were doing the same thing, which prompted Jamie Rousseau Sweet to say how much she missed her old Pilgrim team.
“Then we randomly decided to have an alumni game,” O’Neill said.
A group of players who graduated in the mid-90s stepped up to coordinate – O’Neill, Sweet, Katie Mosunic Tsimikas, Melissa Mosunic Avedisian, Holly Weber and Emily Hickey Bowden,
As the planning got underway, they decided they could use the game as an opportunity to give back – and the cause was a natural fit.
Memories of DiPalma and Zuller were never far from the mind of the current Pilgrim players this season.
“I think that sometimes we’re playing with 13 players,” head coach Mike Weber said earlier this year.
Now, even more Patriots will rally around the cause, with alumni covering almost 20 years set to take the field. It goes as far back as 1993, and several players who graduated in 2012 will be on the team as well.
“People were like, ‘This is awesome,’” O’Neill said. “A lot of people wanted to get involved.”
Former coach John LaFauci will return to coach the alumni team as it goes up against the current Pats. The alumni know they’ll have their work cut out for them. Pilgrim went 11-1-2 this year and was one win away from an appearance in the state championship.
“I think we’ll need some oxygen,” O’Neill joked. “We have a huge roster so hopefully we can keep everybody fresh.”
In addition to the festivities on the field, a host of items will be raffled off, including Providence Bruins tickets, restaurant gift certificates and a stay at a condo at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire.
The organizers have found support throughout the community, from the Gridiron to restaurants willing to donate raffle items to the Warwick Fire Fighters Soccer Club, which has encouraged its players and families to attend.
It’s all about coming together – both for good soccer and a good cause.
“I think everybody’s excited about it,” O’Neill said. “We’re hoping it’s a great event.”