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Men’s and Women’s Basketball | Basketball teams support heart health, cancer awareness

Published: Friday, February 14, 2014

Updated: Friday, February 14, 2014 08:02

Those who have attended men’s basketball games this year have been exposed to a strange pregame spectacle. A very tall man — 6’8” to be exact — in a suit waits at the end of the warm-up line for each starter, performing their “warm-up” dances with them. 

The players call him “Coach P.,” but for sophomore Tom Palleschi, his role as a coach had not been a consideration until he was indefinitely sidelined last fall when a pre-existing heart condition came to light.

“Obviously, I was devastated,” Palleschi told the Daily in an email. “I worked harder than ever trying to improve my game this summer and to have that bomb dropped on me really broke my heart.” 

In conjunction with February Heart Month, the men’s basketball team joined the American Heart Association in solidarity with Palleschi, who was named the NESCAC Rookie of the Year last year. 

Tonight, a Fan the Fire event will be held at 6 p.m. in Cousens Gym, with a Tufts-Colby double header featuring both the women’s and men’s basketball teams. The event is a means of generating awareness for organizations the basketball teams support. The women’s team will play in honor of 12-year-old Shannon Curley, who has leukemia. 

“This means a lot to us, and it’s great to see how well [Shannon] is doing now with the care that she [has] gotten, so we want to highlight that and get the fans thinking about it,” women’s basketball head coach Carla Berube said.

The team selected Curley through the Coaches vs. Cancer program, a nationwide collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) that empowers basketball coaches, their teams and local communities to make a difference in the fight against cancer. Both teams’ head coaches said the program is close to their hearts.

“We have been with the [Coaches vs. Cancer] for a while, mainly because a player of mine, Chris [McMahon] (LA ’95), got cancer at a young age,” men’s basketball head coach Bob Sheldon Jr. told the Daily in an email. “He was in his thirties, had two kids and had stage-four cancer, but he survived and is fine now. Chris still comes to our alumni game and two or three games a year.” 

The event is the third Fan the Fire event of the year, and the first of the spring season. Fan the Fire, which alumnae Melissa Burke (LA ’11) and Amanda Roberts (LA ’11) started as a senior project for their Entrepreneur Leadership class, aims to fill the stands at every Tufts athletics game and build a strong school spirit. 

Despite athletic excellence over the past decade, general interest in sports has waned considerably. Student attendance at games is still a rare sight. This situation provided the inspiration for Fan the Fire’s “Sports. Spirit. Service.” slogan, intended to encourage students to support Tufts athletes and create a unifying body, or “One Tufts.” 

While Fan the Fire has been successful thus far, tomorrow’s event will focus on the causes the two basketball teams are advocating, as well as the people who have personally been affected by heart problems or cancer. 

No one encompasses what the event stands for better than fellow Jumbo, Tom Palleschi

“Tom was NESCAC’s Rookie of the Year last year, and a big part of our team, but he has grown a lot this year,” Sheldon said. “You can say he is the heart of our team  — (pun intended).”

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