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WESTTOWN — The sounds of party music could be heard upon approach of the gymnasium at Stetson Middle School as seventh grade students filled the room to capacity, decked out in a variety of colors and costumes as they cheered on their classmates on the court. It was only a third of the participation for Hoops for Heart at the middle school.
The event, celebrating its ninth year at the school, is all about raising money for the American Heart Association, while also having a little bit — or a lot — of fun.
“(The students) love it,” said Rob Lalka, co-organizer of the event and a Health & PE teacher at Stetson. “They have fun with it and get dressed up. It’s all about having fun and raising money for a good cause.”
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Feeding off the West Chester elementary schools’ Jump Rope for Heart, Stetson wanted to have a fun fundraiser of its own and with the help of the Health and Physical Education teachers, came up with Hoops for Heart.
“Nine years ago, Dr. C (Cognato) said, ‘Why don’t we start something like that here?’” said Erin Listrani, Health & PE teacher at Stetson and other co-organizer. “I thought it was a great idea. It has grown every year. (The students) really look forward to it.”
Each of the three grade levels create 32 co-ed teams, made up of two girls and two boys. Teams can also have a coach and mascot.
“It’s $10 per player, so $40 for the team and $10 for a mascot or coach,” Listrani said. “The donations per team range from $40 to $60.”
But the students don’t stop there as they are encouraged to go out and raise more money.
“We tell the students if we want to meet our goal and keep raising money, they need to do extra things, like a bake sale,” Listrani said. “Just yesterday, I had a sixth-grade team, who had already registered and paid, hand me an envelope of $90 that they raised from a bake sale in their neighborhood. They’re just continuing to raise money.”
The goal now is to raise somewhere between $5,000 to $6,000.
With a huge chunk of the student body raising money and creating teams, the parents tend to even help out with the creativity portion as the students make shirts and mascots create costumes.
“I love the creativity,” Listrani said. “Some of it is just wild.”
In the seventh grade bracket, there were mascots cheering alongside the court dressed as jelly beans and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
And that was just a few of them.
The students are recognized yearly for the best dressed teams in each grade and win prizes.
There is also a winning team for each grade every year as the 32-team brackets go against each other in four-minute basketball games.
“It’s during our Unified Arts periods, so when they would normally have Health, Gym, Art of Music,” Listrani said.
During the games, which could have four going on at the same time on in the gym, there is a DJ playing popular music to keep the students entertained on and off the court.
“Our Stetson PTO donates to us and provides money to get a DJ and to get prizes for the students,” Listrani said.
Hoops for Heart has become such a hit that former Stetson students return to volunteer their time to help.
“We work with the athletic director at Rustin High School,” Listrani said. “A lot of the Rustin kids who have done this come back and volunteer their time to referee. It’s so cool because there are siblings in the crowd.”
The returning students will help out mostly with refereeing the multiple games.
They still have as much fun as they did when playing.
“I had a lot of fun and enjoyed it,” said Erin Gallagher, a ninth grader at Rustin. “Every year, I would look forward to it. It was a good time. The energy and the enthusiasm keeps bringing me back.”
It’s not just the students who are being charitable as Health & PE teacher Sharon Brewer goes out to the community to look for donations from local businesses.
Kelly’s Sports donates T-shirts and water bottles while several West Chester restaurants donate gift cards.
That raffle will bring in roughly another $500 on top of what the students raise.
And the students have not disappointed over the years as they have brought in well over $35,000 for the American Heart Association in the previous eight years.
“I enjoy it for the students,” Listrani said. “I organize it, but they make it with their creativity and their enthusiasm. They do care about the fundraising aspect, too. They’re anxious to see if we made our goal every year and they’re anxious to help.”