Drop the Puck on Cancer nets $450,000, sets next event for March 30 in Brentwood
John Toth knows cancer.
The 44-year-old Brentwood resident lost both parents to the disease, his mother dying when he was just 12.
“I’ve been around cancer my whole life,” said Toth.
It’s what inspired him to find ways to support others affected by a diagnosis, including spending entire days refereeing during the annual Drop the Puck on Cancer dek hockey tournament at the rink in Brentwood Park, an annual fundraiser for local people impacted by the disease.
This year’s Drop the Puck event, set for March 30, will be a little different for Toth. Last October, a biopsy revealed he has follicular lymphoma, an incurable, slow-moving cancer.
He now will be a recipient of funds raised at the event.
“Life just works in mysterious ways,” said Toth, who goes by “JT” and owns his own clothing company, Sportsvival.
Drop the Puck on Cancer, now in its eighth year, started when two Brentwood High School alumni died from the disease.
The deaths of Julie Andrulonis-Duttine and Tom Cavataio hit fellow Brentwood alumni hard. Cavataio was a 1984 graduate; Andrulonis-Duttine graduated in 1993. The two died within days of one another in 2011.
A group decided to get together and “have a little hockey game to blow off some steam and raise $100 for their families,” said Matt Harkins, 50, of Jefferson Hills, who graduated from Brentwood High School in 1987.
Word spread quickly. They asked each graduating class across the decades to donate baskets for an auction. Local businesses contributed.
The first year alone, more than $50,000 was raised.
After the first seven years, the total from the annual Drop the Puck on Cancer event has reached more than $450,000 in donations.
Each year, the money is given to people with cancer. The only requirement is recipients must have some connection to Brentwood, whether they graduated from the high school or are living there now.
Thus far, the organization has helped between 25 and 30 people with funds raised from the event. The money is distributed based on need.
Other 2019 recipients include 1991 graduate Kregg Heenan, 1986 graduate Suzi Collins Milius, 1992 graduate Tonya Diggins Miller, Celine Shultz Giacci and Norman Schmidt.
A group of about 12 volunteers spend months each year pulling the event together.
Each year, Harkins wishes it could be the last.
“I wish there was no more of this disease,” he said.
The tournament is double elimination with 12 teams playing all day in the rink.
To support the event, anyone can join the 1,000 others who come each year and simply show up. While the tournament is going on, food from local businesses will be sold in the Brentwood Civic Center and a Chinese auction will be held featuring a signed and framed Mario Lemieux jersey. There also will be entertainment for kids with a magician and arts and crafts.
Both hockey and the auctions start at 8 a.m. on March 30.
It’s a day that brings together the entire community, young and old.
“It’s a family event,” Harkins said.
For Toth, a 1992 Baldwin High School graduate who has lived in Brentwood for 13 years, the support of the community means everything.
“This community makes you not feel quite as alone,” he said.
Toth, who played on a hockey team at Drop the Puck three years ago, said he’s always been impressed with the event.
“It’s mind-numbing what they do,” he said.
Looking back, he’s glad he helped others who needed it in the past. He encourages everyone to get involved, because no one ever knows when cancer could affect them.
This year, Toth still plans to play one round on Harkins’ team.
In fact, he fully intends to score a goal.