Penguins draw crowd to McKeesport for autographs, good cause

| Thursday, March 28, 2013, 4:56 a.m.

Four Pittsburgh Penguins took time away from the ice for a good cause in McKeesport.

Kris Letang, Deryk Engelland, Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke signed autographs and met fans at Tom Clark Chevrolet along Route 48 on Wednesday night.

Their visit was to support the Tommy Wilson Exceptional Children's Fund.“Every time we have a chance, we try to get involved,” Letang said. “It was a great opportunity tonight. I've been with Tom for I think three or four years. They invited me, and I couldn't refuse the great opportunity to come out.”

The fund established by Tom Clark Jr.'s wife Mary Ellen helps provide educational tools for Wilson Christian Academy in West Mifflin.

Donated items have included SMART boards, document cameras, classroom equipment and learning materials.

The Penguins have assisted with the Clark family's charity events since 1998.

“We enjoy the relationship we have with the Penguins because they are very focused on local communities like ours, and also charities,” Clark Jr. said. “Being a small business, we try to help out whenever we know there's a charity that needs some help. The Penguins are always a great help on that. Any time we can take and raise money for a charity that doesn't have any government funding, that's what we like to do.”

Items sold for the children's fund on Wednesday included food, posters, cards, wristbands and even a Wheaties box featuring Penguins players.

Hundreds of people packed the showroom floor long before players arrived.

“It's not a question. Every year we have tons of fans,” Letang said. “It's the reason we have a sold-out building every night. They're a huge part of our success. That's what makes it special when you play in Pittsburgh. The fans are always behind you. Every time the team supports a cause they just go right behind that cause with the team. It's always touching a lot of guys. Obviously this one is for the children. There's a lot of guys (on our team) that have children. I think all four of us have kids so it's pretty important for us to show our support and come here and help the cause.”

Frank Gasperin, 18, of North Versailles Township was in line with his Letang jersey.

He said he learned about the event through Facebook and was happy to help a charity while getting an autograph from his favorite player.

“It feels great to help people out and meet the players at the same time,” Gasperin said. “I think (more people) should (help).”

McKeesporter Bonnie Grott, who attended with her 22-year-old son Tyler Grott, said her family heard about Wednesday's autograph session while they were buying a Chevy Equinox on Tuesday.

“We were here last year too for the fundraiser,” she said. “We've seen everybody. We have a son with disabilities, and we support anything to help kids with disabilities. We do a lot.”

Tyler Grott has attention deficit hyperactive disorder, seizures, and other learning disabilities.

He said he loves the entire Penguins team and does not have a favorite player.

“The people in Western Pennsylvania do have a good heart and they do have a desire to help people that are underprivileged,” Clark Jr. said. “Any time we've had an event like this where you're raising money for a charity, we've always got a lot of support out of the community. We never have an expectation on how many people are going to come. We advertise that they're going to be here, and we always have a lot of people that show up for it.”

“I think it's absolutely wonderful what Tom Sr. and what the family does in regards to this foundation and the money that they try to raise and what they do,” McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said. “It's absolutely admirable.”

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1965, or

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