HOLDEN, Mass. — Holden area soccer players will join young Malia Juszcyk in her fight against stage IV neuroblastoma cancer as they take to the field for the Crush Cancer Tournament.
The 3v3 tournament (three players per team on the field at any one time) is set to begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 28, at Wachusett Regional High School in Holden. Courtney Letourneau, a former Wachusett star athlete and current Springfield College senior, is organizing the event, which began last year to help victims of a tornado that tore through Springfield.
"The tornado actually took out one of our dorms," said Letourneau, who, after seeing how the community was ravaged, organized a soccer competition to help affected families.
Even on short notice, nearly 200 players participated. "It was a big hit last year and was something that I wanted to continue," she said.
While seeking a new cause, Letourneau was directed to maliacrushescancer.com, a website launched to support a 4-year-old girl battling cancer.
Letourneau was moved by Malia's story, learning that she was just 2 1/2 when a CT scan revealed that her tummy aches were caused by a large tumor lodged in her abdomen. A biopsy confirmed that she had a very aggressive childhood cancer known as stage IV neuroblastoma.
To survive, Malia has endured six rounds of chemotherapy, nine hours of tumor resection surgery, a stem cell transplant, removal of a kidney, 12 rounds of proton radiation and countless blood transfusions.
"She's so young," said Letourneau. "Kids her age are going to the beach or playing with dolls. They're not in hospitals, they haven't had chemotherapy. I'm 21 years old now, and I haven't gone through nearly as much as she has, so I think that her family could definitely use our help."
According to the Neuroblastoma Children's Cancer Society, "For families affected by neuroblastoma, the medical costs alone typically exceed $500,000. With many costs not covered by health insurance, this experience can devastate a family financially."
To help raise money for the family, the Crush Cancer Tournament needs teams to fill the brackets. The entry fee is $10 per person, with all of the proceeds going directly to Malia's family.
"I'm hoping something as little as this will make a big impact," said Letourneau. "A lot of these other tournaments have a grand prize. But I hope people just come out to have fun and do it for a good cause, and hopefully raise a good amount of money for Malia."
Players must be at least in high school to play in the older division, but an under 8 and under 10 bracket is offered for younger players. Teams should have no more than seven people, and all teams should be finalized by July 14. A raffle will also be held to help the family.
For more information, call Courtney Letourneau, tournament coordinator, at (508) 769-2654 or join the tournament event page on Facebook.