Unionville marching band takes the ALS challenge

This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website and the Southern Chester County Weeklies‘ website.
The Unionville High School marching band took on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and raised over $250 in support of the ALS Association and in honor of a band parent who has the disease. (Jo-Anne Darragh)

The Unionville High School marching band took on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and raised over $250 in support of the ALS Association and in honor of a band parent who has the disease. (Jo-Anne Darragh)

In what has become an internet sensation, people across the country — and even the world — have grabbed their cell phones, cameras and webcams to record themselves dumping buckets of ice water over their heads, all in the name of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – otherwise known as ALS.

For many, it’s a chance to do some good against a disease so terrible.

But for the members of the Unionville High School marching band, the challenge struck a chord closer to their hearts.

“It just hits home when you’ve got a friend and somebody you know who actually is dealing with the disease right now,” said Unionville Band Director Scott Litzenberg.

… [Please continue the story on the Daily Local News website by clicking here.]

After spending classes together, several nights a week rehearsing and performances throughout the fall season, ‘bandos’ form a close-knit bond with each other, and it was never more apparent than when the ALS Challenge came about and they knew someone afflicted.

A parent of two former band members — the youngest having graduated this past June — has ALS.

“I wasn’t sure if (the parent) even made it through the summer or not,” Litzenberg said. “As it turns out, he did. He’s still here.

“(The prarents) were really active and very supportive. They are great parents with great kids. It’s just heartbreaking. It’s a heartbreaking disease to see happen.”

When the Ice Bucket Challenge started sweeping across Facebook and Twitter, Litzenberg was nominated by a fellow teacher at the school, but he decided to take it a step farther.

“I just thought instead of me doing it, it would be nice if we did it with the whole group,” he said. “To have one of your former students know that their dad is dying — it’s hard.”

When he approached the marching band with the idea, it was met with immediate enthusiasm and they took it upon themselves to show their support of the family and the cause.

“As soon as it was brought up, they were like, ‘We’re doing this,’’ Litzenberg said. “It’s just not just a game on Facebook. It actually is real life stuff.”

ALS, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease which affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, according to the ALS Association.

Essentially, the disease affects the motor neurons going from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles.

Without the ability of the motor neurons reaching the muscles, the patient may become paralyzed and eventually leads to death.

There is no cure or treatment that halts or reverses the affects of ALS, but with continued research and funding, discoveries have been made to create devices and therapies which can manage symptoms and prolong survival, including an FDA approved drug called riluzole.

This summer alone, the Ice Bucket Challenge has brought in enough money to top $100 million for the ALS Association, as reported by the New York Daily News Sept. 1.

“Some people are making fun of (the challenge) because it went viral, saying, ‘Oh, it wasn’t taken seriously,’ but I totally disagree,” said Jo-Anne Darragh, a current band parent. “I think people really took it seriously and it brought amazing and wonderful attention to the cause. I think it was social media at its best, working for a good cause instead of anything negative.”

So, at the end of August, the marching band members spelled out ‘ALS’ with their bodies in the parking lot of the high school and dumped the frigid water on their heads.

Along the way, they also rasied $250 to donate to the ALS Association.

“I asked everybody to bring in a few dollars,” Litzenberg said. “It was the kids themselves walking in that night and putting the money in my baseball hat.”

When all was said and done, the students put in about $220 with Litzenberg chipping in to even it out at $250.

“It was nice that we could do more than just the $100,” Litzenberg said. “We don’t have a huge band, so I felt pretty good about it.”

Now, the students can feel they made a difference in a life of someone they know and care about and, quite frankly, someone they feel is a part of their family.

“They really look out for each other,” Darragh said. “It’s amazing how these kids interact and take care of each other.

“The kids got to be a part of it. They got to put together all their connections and social media to a really good cause. It’s unbelievable how they really are full of love for one another and look out for one another. It blew us all away at how caring they were toward this family.”

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Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Community

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