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Aces for ALS Volleyball community rallies together to fight disease

On Sunday, the M-A girls volleyball community celebrated the success of its first annual Aces for ALS tournament. Luca Taormina, coach of the JV girls volleyball team, organized the event to raise awareness and funding for the ALS Association. M-A players, as well as competitors and volunteers from surrounding communities, rallied together in support of this worthy cause.

The event comprised a high school girls tournament and an adult gender-blind tournament. Players paid to register and were encouraged to reach out to friends and family members to collect donations. Additionally, sponsors could pledge a certain amount of money for each ace scored by a given player.

All proceeds were given to the ALS Association, which is dedicated to fighting amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The deadly neurodegenerative disease afflicts thousands of people each year, and currently no effective treatments or cures exist. The association uses a “three-pronged approach” to combat the disease, which includes research, advocacy, and care services for ALS patients.

Taormina said, “This is a very personal cause for me because my mother was recently diagnosed with ALS.” After learning of her diagnosis, Taormina immediately began to research the disease. He discovered that “ALS is a very rare disease, so funding and research hasn’t accumulated. Big-budget funding usually goes toward cancer and things that are affecting more people. But unfortunately, it’s a really terrible disease, so instantly my biggest fear was that it’s underfunded and there’s not a lot going on.”

Specially designed shirts were also sold to raise money.

In his research, the coach came upon the ice bucket challenge, an activity intended to promote awareness of ALS that swept social media several years ago. According to the “rules” of the challenge, a nominated participant must be filmed dumping a bucket of ice water on their head and then nominate others to do the same. Taormina said, “You come to find out that so much is going on in science now from the money that was raised for the ice bucket challenge. So immediately I knew that I wanted to contribute.”

Taormina reached out to the ALS Association and came into contact with Kaisha Johnson, the Team Challenge ALS Coordinator who is responsible for third party events. With her help, he planned the Aces for ALS tournament. “Luca rounded up all of the people, and I helped create the website so that the money can go toward our chapter,” Johnson said.

Members of the ALS Association, including Johnson (left), set up a table at the entrance of the tournament.

He was met with total support from the M-A community. “The volleyball team is like a family, so once they found out about it everybody wanted to get involved,” Taormina shared. The athletic directors were extremely cooperative, and players and parents were eager to help organize the event and invite fellow volleyball players to participate.

Varsity player Erica Fischer commented, “Our entire team loves Luca and we’re all really sad this has happened, but it’s been great that we can find something positive to do for his mom. We’re a family, so it’s really important that when someone’s down we try to help.”

Sawyer Jones, also a player on the varsity team, added, “This is a huge deal for him because he’s leaving next year, and even though he’s not going to be a part of the program anymore he’s still a part of our family. We’ve all come together to help him out.”

The Bears helped Taormina create the following video to advertise the tournament.

According to M-A girls varsity coach Jairo Sierra, the event was an "unbelievable success.” The team well exceeded its initial fundraising goal of $1,000, which was raised to $5,000 several days after it was set. As donations continued to come in, the goal was modified twice more, and group ended up with over $11,000 at the end of the day on Sunday.

Sierra added that they are “super happy with all the efforts made by every single person involved” and that “not only do people want us to host the event again, but they would like it to grow in size. We would love to make this as big as possible each year, hopefully forcing us to use more gyms and even add a boys division to it.”

Taormina (left) and Sierra (right) were extremely appreciative of the efforts made by the volleyball community.

At the end of the tournament, players participated in the ice bucket challenge to demonstrate their support and spread awareness.

“The goal is for everybody to challenge another volleyball player,” Taormina said. “Hopefully in this niche community it will build a lot of traction, and we’ll be able to expand throughout the whole volleyball world and have lots of fundraisers like these to be able to generate money for ALS.”

Players dumped buckets of ice water on themselves as part of the challenge.

Taormina added, "We hope to tip the needle in terms of research and find something. Maybe we’re not going to find a cure, but if we can find a drug to slow down the spread, then that will buy enough time to let science catch up.”

All participants were thrilled with the outcome of the event. “This tournament meant absolutely everything to us,” Sierra stated. “The fact that the volleyball community and M-A did so much is a blessing. Every player and parent made some sort of donation toward the cause, albeit monetary or volunteering their time to work. A special shoutout to our M-A players and parents, all of the volleyball players involved, and Marcela (Taormina’s mother) for making the trip from the East Coast!”

The tournament was the perfect send-off for Taormina, who will soon be moving to New York, and a great way to conclude the Bears’ successful volleyball season.

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