What began as one North Colonie art teacher’s desire to give back has expanded into a weeklong hockey tournament with 16 teams and more than $200,000 raised for the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
John Dootlittle, a Shaker High School Art teacher of 17 years, began the now-annual Ronald McDonald House Capital Cup for Kids six years ago, after his son suffered health issues. Since then, the tournament has amounted to $218,000 donated to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Capital Region.
When his son was 18 months old, the Dootlittles found themselves in Albany Medical Center to get treatment for his chronic pneumonia and asthma. Since the stay spanned over multiple days, Dootlittle found himself more than once borrowing movies from the family room for the Ronald McDonald House on the medical center’s fifth floor.
He said he spoke to people who volunteered for the organization, which provides support for seriously ill children and their families.
But, it wasn’t until the Dootlittles were leaving that he decided he had to give back.
“It was really on the way out with my son, passing by that family room and seeing some folks that were in a much different place than I was in that I was going home with my son,” said Dootlittle.
After that, he said he volunteered some for the local Ronald McDonald House. Then, several months later, Dootlittle came up with the idea for a hockey tournament to benefit the organization.
“I had been playing hockey my entire life. It’s something I’d always enjoyed doing,” Dootlittle said. So he thought, “Why not start a tournament here in Albany?”
The first year was so popular he brought up the idea for the Capital Cup for Kids to Jeff Yule, the local Ronald McDonald House’s executive director, and Chris Turner, the organization’s corporate relations and events director.
Played each year at Troy’s Knickerbacker Ice Arena, the tournament continues to grow. The first year yielded about $7,000. Last year, the tournament raised $72,000.
“Every year, we depend on the funds generated by this event to allow us to serve the families that utilize the services we provide. Dealing with the illness of a child comes with an enormous amount of stress and it is our primary goal to support these families,” said Jeff Yule, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House of Albany.
The funds are not the only part of the tournament that has grown. It started off with about four to six teams, then grew to eight to twelve. Now, 16 teams compete with more than 200 players in all. A local player captains each team with a child from the Ronald McDonald house as honorary captain.
The 16-year-old Ashley Dempsey, diagnosed with a brain tumor two years ago, acts as honorary captain for the Troy Rebels. Skyler Castro, 10, diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma in 2014, represents the Rabid Old Buzzards.
The children and their families try to attend the tournament and visit their teams before the game if they’re well enough. Dootlittle said hearing the families’ stories has caused a larger impact on the community than simply playing in the tournament, which is why he said the efforts that began with the tournament have grown much bigger than him.
“This should not be about one person,” he said. “It’s really turned into a community event, and there are many arms to that community.”
Dootlittle’s wife, Erica, Boght Hill Elementary teacher, organizes the heart sales and dress-down days for district elementary schools. Shaker High Art Department Supervisor Anne Manzella helps with art sales. The department holds an annual pumpkin carving competition for the high school students, funds from which go to the Ronald McDonald House.
Amtrak also began its Empire Service Rails to Recovery program out of the tournament. The program provides people in New York traveling for treatment of a life-threatening illness a buy-one, get-one-free discount.
Bill Hollister, an Amtrak employee, pushed for the program after learning of one honorary team captain’s biography.
“I noticed that she traveled on Amtrak back and forth for treatment for cancer. It kind of bothered me, because I work for Amtrak,” said Hollister.
He said several years ago, when he worked as Amtrak’s head of marketing, he had proposed a similar program to alleviate the costs of travel for people suffering from serious illnesses. However, there was not an organization in the area to support the program, nor was the ticketing technology yet available.
Since then, Voices of Hope has been created as a collaboration of local 501C3 charitable organizations to provide support for the people using the organizations, including the Ronald McDonald House. The discount is offered through Voices of Hope’s website.
“It was put into place May of 2014, so it’s just a little over a year old, and we started out a little slow,” said Hollister. After receiving promotion at events and in publications, the program grew.
In June 2015, 53 travelers used the discount for treatment travel. “It seems to be the average. That’s pretty significant within one month,” Hollister said.
Another team member who owns a paving company donated services to redo the parking lot area before the Capital Cup for Kids tournament. Someone also began a soccer tournament in a similar vein.
“If that kind of thing keeps happening, it’s a much bigger story. It’s making (people) think about the community more,” said Dootlittle. “They’re making a difference in people’s lives.”
For information about the Capital Cup for Kids, go to www.capitalcupforkids.com. There, information on each honorary team captain can be found. For information on Voices of Hope and Amtrak Empire Service Rails to Recovery, go to www.voicesofthecapitalregion.org.
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