WIFFLE MANIA 12-year-old MCA boy uses birthday as a way to help Sandy Hook community
ATLAS - Tommy Reisinger read a news report about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six staff members were murdered last December.
Twenty children, all between 6 and 7 years old, and all of them less than half his age.
Tommy turned to his dad, Tom, of Mount Carmel, and asked what they could do. His dad's answer surely mirrored that of many parents in the days and weeks after the U.S. was rocked by yet another deadly mass shooting.
"Nothing really. Just pray and donate," Tom recalled having told his son.
"I felt sorry for all the families whose children died," Tommy, a sixth-grade Mount Carmel Area student, said Saturday.
Tommy took his dad's advice and got to quickly thinking. His parents, Tom and Deb, hosted more than 50 kids for a Wiffle Ball tournament for his 11th birthday in 2012. All those birthday cards with all those dollar bills spurred the idea to do it again, this time with portions of the gifts going to United Way's Sandy Hook School Support Fund. The fund provides support services to the victims' families and the community.
The Reisingers hosted Wiffle Mania on Saturday, with 66 kids playing ball at the field at the West End Playground in Atlas.
For every birthday card given to Tommy, who turned 12 on March 17, he kept a little for himself and put the rest toward the Sandy Hook fund. In all, the 12-year-old raised $250. Ken Shedleski, chief executive officer of Wealth Professionals Inc., Shamokin, pledged to match it in full, Tom said.
The Reisingers patiently waited for spring weather to return in order to host the Wiffle Ball birthday party. Saturday proved as good a time as any, with mild temperatures and a clear sky giving way to a beautifully sunny day.
Taking advantage of the weather forecast, Tom
worked over the past week organizing Wiffle Mania. He reached out to David Mullany of Wiffle Ball Inc. - a company based in Shelton, Conn., about a half-hour from Newtown, Conn., where the shooting occurred. Mullany responded in kind, donating Wiffle Ball bat-and-ball sets for every child expected to participate.
Tom also got in touch with Ken Schwartz, a television producer for ESPN who donated green wristbands decorated with hearts and haloed angel wings and the phrases "Angels of Sandy Hook" and "Hope Faith Love."
Randy and Lisa Boyer donated pizza from their business, Mount Carmel Bull Pen. Rick Wilson, owner of Bumper's Beverage, Mount Carmel, provided drinks. James Bush, of Atlas, donated use of the ballfield.
The kids, ranging between 6 and 14 years old, and a few of their dads, were split into six teams named after professional ball clubs: Phillies, Orioles, Nationals, Red Sox, Mets and Yankees. They played a round robin tournament. After that, there was a home run derby. Trophies donated by the family owned Academy Sports Center were given to the winners.
Bob and Cathy Welker and Cathy Besser of Academy Sports also kicked in a monetary donation.
Those who played in Wiffle Mania each autographed Wiffle Ball's signature skinny plastic bat. It will be mailed to Schwartz, who will then turn it over as a unexpected gift to Newtown Police Officer William Chapman, one of the many first responders called into action Dec. 14.
Chapman was among the police officers interviewed for the New York Times feature that spurred Tommy to raise money for Sandy Hook.
That so many people helped out on such short notice, including some who were strangers to the Reisingers, was a moving experience for Tom. As he spoke about their generosity, he said he was glad to know there are many kind people in this world. He also remains very thankful for what he has.
"One day you can have a family of four and the next day you wake up and you can have a family of three," Tom said.
This will be Tommy's last big birthday party, his dad said. But it won't be the last of Wiffle Mania. Tom said the event would continue in the years to come under the name Kids for a Cause, with proceeds donated to needy causes.