Tony Spano, founder and executive director of the Hope Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, orchestrated the ninth Game of Hope Classic on Saturday in Youngstown State University’s Beeghly Center, completing work he began 365 days before.
“It really consumes at least a part of my life every day,” Spano said.
He brainstormed his first game after graduating from YSU in 2005, and has since raised $60,000 for chronically and terminally ill children.
“At the time, we really weren’t seeing these kinds of events. I thought, ‘A charity basketball game with people playing against politicians and leaders.’ That’s how it started,” Spano said.
The games have dominated his calendar ever since.
After Beeghly Center emptied on Jan. 28, 2012, the local names went home. The janitors cleaned up the popcorn, and the lights went out. Spano gave himself a night of rest and began planning for this year’s event, which raised $11,000.
The games raised up to $2,000 in the early years, but donations have been growing with attendance.
In April, Spano put together a list of names for a potential roster. He asks his friends and family who they would want to see.
Spano booked the venue in August. He said Beeghly Center has been the ideal venue, adding that he plans the Game of Hope around the university’s basketball schedule.
By October, Spano reached out to possible players to finalize details.
In November, he gathered about 50 volunteers and began working on a program in which he lists names, donors and other activities.
Over the years, YSU President Cynthia Anderson and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan have coached and played for the fundraiser.
Anderson attended the game on Saturday.
“I’ve been a supporter of the Hope Foundation. Two years ago, I was the team captain and we lost, but this is a wonderful philanthropy and a wonderful opportunity for our community to come together,” Anderson said. “The folks who organize this do a great job.”
She said the event helps YSU fulfill its mission of being connected to the community.
Chet Cooper, a professor of biological sciences, said he has fun participating in the event.
“I was here last year, and I was the cheerleader,” he said. “Dr. Anderson sucked me into wearing a skirt and being a cheerleader and running around in my skirt.”
This year, head coaches for the teams were U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson and Jim Davis, an Austintown trustee.
Players ranged from Stacie Cepin, head coach of the Austintown Lady Falcons, to State Sen. Joe Schiavoni.
Schiavoni first played in the Game of Hope in 2009.
He said playing is a fun way to raise money for a good cause.
“If I can play basketball for a couple hours and raise a little money, it’s always worth it,” Schiavoni said.
He said Spano’s dedication makes the event a success from year to year.
“Tony is a great guy who just wants to make a difference,” Schiavoni said.
It’s hard work that sometimes consumes his life, but he said he can’t imagine a year without it.
“I started this because I wanted to help people. For right now, I can’t imagine turning this over to anyone else,” Spano said.