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Arnold cancels charity basketball game with Steelers

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 1:01 a.m.
 

Arnold officials blamed finances for the cancellation of the annual basketball game that honored the late Arnold Officer Thomas Cimino and pitted local police against the Steelers.

The Tom Cimino D.A.R.E. Benefit Basketball Game will not reach its 17th anniversary this year because the fundraiser didn't earn much money last spring, according to Arnold Mayor Larry Milito and Arnold police representatives.

“There was hardly anybody there,” Milito said. “They didn't take much in.”

Arnold police Officer Eric Doutt, who took over organizing the game in 2002 upon Cimino's death, confirmed the event barely broke even last year.

The Steelers receive a portion of the ticket sales, Milito said; Doutt estimated the Steelers' cut at $2,500. A spokesman for the Steelers did not return a call for comment.

Once the game's costs were covered, there wasn't much left for charity, Arnold officials said.

Additionally, Arnold no longer has a D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program since federal funding was cut, Milito and police Chief William Weber said.

“(The game) is slated as a fundraiser for the D.A.R.E. program. We're not using the D.A.R.E. program anymore,” Weber said. “When you're at the break-even point, it's not worth it.”

Cimino founded the charity game in 1996 to raise money for drug-education programs at New Kensington-Arnold School District.

Police officers from Arnold and New Kensington squared off against Steelers players who have included Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and James Harrison over the years.

The home team usually lost — sometimes by huge margins — but the score wasn't the point.

“I wish we could've kept it going because I feel, for many of the kids in the community, it may have been their only chance to meet a Steeler in person,” Doutt said.

Cimino's widow, Pam Cimino of Arnold, said her husband was committed to the community and to sports.

“Tom loved sports, all sports. It didn't matter what sport it was,” said Pam Cimino. She noted her husband also organized softball games between local police and fire departments. He also coached youth baseball and basketball.

Pam Cimino said she was disappointed to hear the game won't be held this year. She said her son, named Tom after his father and now 27, usually played in the game; family members attended each year.

“When you lose a loved one, the most important thing is you want them to be remembered,” she said. “I wish they were able to continue it.”

When Cimino died of steatohepatitis, a liver disease not related to alcohol consumption, Doutt took over organizing the game and renamed it in Cimino's honor.

Believed to have once been the only basketball game featuring the Steelers in the Alle-Kiski Valley, Doutt noted that several local schools now bring in the team. Last year Allegheny Valley, Apollo-Ridge, Ford City and Kiski Area school groups all hosted the Steelers in addition to Arnold. Apollo-Ridge, Ford City and Kiski all scheduled similar basketball games this spring.

“There's other games scheduled nearby now, which ate into our sales,” Doutt said.

Doutt said attendance was higher when Roethlisberger and other stars participated, but the Steelers players aren't announced ahead of time, meaning organizers can't always pre-sell many tickets until right before the event.

Doutt and Milito said they'd like to find another way to honor Cimino, a 23-year veteran of the city's police department. Milito said he'd like a benefit to fund a scholarship in Cimino's name.

“It's going to be 11 years on April 4 since his death,” Pam Cimino said. “It's hard to believe. He was such a character.

“It was his lifelong goal to be a police officer in Arnold. He started as dispatcher, then became a police officer,” she said. “He even had to be buried in Arnold, in Union Cemetery.

“I really hope they do something to carry on the tradition.”

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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