Visiting team performs community service

WHEELING — A nationally ranked boys’ basketball team competing in the Cancer Research Classic took time Thursday to practice charitable acts of kindness.

Team members and their coaches from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas visited Catholic Charities-West Virginia’s headquarters in Wheeling for a community service project.

The Bishop Gorman squad — recognized as one of the top 15 teams in the country –is making its third appearance in the annual Cancer Research Classic tournament at WesBanco Arena. The event’s chief initiative has always been to use basketball as a vehicle to promote men’s health. While that’s still the primary focus, the event, which begins this afternoon at WesBanco Arena, has truly branched out to become an even bigger part of the community.

Last month the event announced, through a partnership with XTO Energy and Wheeling Hospital, that each high school student in the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio would be admitted to the CRC for free by showing proof of membership to the Drug Free Clubs of America.

On Thursday, the CRC took another step to help the community. For the first time in the event’s 12-year history, a competing team arrived in the Ohio Valley early with the aim of helping others. The team and coaching staff from Bishop Gorman spent a couple of hours addressing, stuffing and sealing envelopes for Catholic Charities. The envelopes now contain invitations to the nonprofit’s annual gala, held in March.

The ball handlers ended up handling more than 1,000 pieces of mail as they stuffed and sealed envelopes, head coach Grant Rice said.

Rice noted that the coaching staff seeks service opportunities for players during the team’s frequent travels. As representatives of a Catholic school, “we believe in giving back,” he said.

Rice had reached out to tournament organizer Dr. Gregory Merrick of Wheeling Hospital seeking opportunities for service. From there, Merrick contacted Wheeling Catholic Charities, and Gorman’s travel to the Ohio Valley was arranged accordingly.

“This is something that Coach (Grant) Rice feels very strongly about — that his players have an obligation to give back and help out,” Merrick said. “They were willing to do whatever needed to be done.”

According to Rice, this isn’t something new for Gorman. Each student — regardless if he or she is an athlete — is required to complete 100 service hours before graduation. Such work also provides additional bonding opportunities for the players and coaches.

“We do a lot of charity work and our kids do a lot of service, and we wanted to get here and try to do something to help out the city of Wheeling,” Rice said.

During some of its other trips, Gorman’s team has talked with youths at YMCAs or Boys and Girls Clubs in cities it has traveled and held camps. The team also is active with the Miracle League. The school will host a basketball camp for that organization next week when it returns home.

“Our kids are very fortunate,” Rice said. “They recognize the need to give back in the future. We try to go and help out.”

The team also has an area connection: assistant coach Ryan Pietranton is from Weirton. Pietranton said he learned of the Cancer Research Classic from his cousin, Mike Anthony of Wheeling.

“Actions like this by Bishop Gorman speak to what they’re all about,” Merrick said. “They’re a high academic high school with outstanding athletics all bundled into doing God’s work and helping others. If you don’t help someone get better each day, you’ve lost a day.”