The little brown haired 4-year old boy had been named honorary captain for the Spartans first ever homecoming football game. His job was to walk to mid-field with captain Randy Babineau for the coin toss. Usually this would be an effortless assignment for a 4-year old, but for Ryan the walk to mid-field would take all the energy he could summon. He suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
DMD is a muscular disorder that involves rapid muscle weakness. Ryan was diagnosed soon after he was born. Coach Rich Alercio’s middle son had Ryan’s mother as a teacher in New Jersey.
The Alercio’s became close with the Schultz’s and started to donate to Ryan’s Quest, a Web site about Ryan, DMD, events, and how people can donate and spread the word. When Alercio was offered the position of Castleton’s head football coaching position he said he promised to make sure his family’s relationship with the Schultz’s would stay strong.
“The shame of it is when my wife and I moved away, we were very involved in the fund-raising efforts. My wife competes in triathlons to raise money for Ryan,” Alercio said. “When we left we wanted to maintain our relationship and support.”
Coach Alercio found a perfect fit to continue supporting Ryan’s fight, as well as spreading the awareness to a new community.
“The great thing for our players is that we have such good booster club support for our program, we felt like we were so fortunate with what we have that we wanted to gear our fund-raising efforts toward a cause. And it kind of worked out perfectly to introduce Ryan to our team through the Coach to Cure MD program that was kicked off on Sept. 26 at homecoming. Every college team in the country was supposed to promote the coach to cure MD program,” he said.
When Alercio raised the idea, he said only about two people on the team raised their hands when he asked if anyone knew about DMD. The team has sold t-shirts and is wearing wrists bands, both branded with the words “Ryan’s Quest.”
The point of fund-raising is to earn a large amount of money for research, but it is just as important to have the shirts around campus to promote awareness, Alercio said. He also added that Ryan’s visit might have put things in perspective for his players.
“I think it has a moving impact on people. You get so caught up on how special everything is in your life when you’re a college football player in a brand new stadium with all these wonderful things and great fans. And then you look over and see a little boy struggling to walk over to mid-field for a coin toss with a smile from ear to ear because it’s such a great moment in his life,” he said.
Alercio said the team has a motto that the hand that gives gathers, and they want to give more than they gather. The saying has extended to Alercio’s parenting philosophy from his coaching style.
“My oldest son, Jake, who turned 12 in May, in lieu of getting presents had asked for donations as well,” Alercio said. “It’s interesting though, because no one would ever spend $100 on a 12-year old’s birthday present, but we had two people write out checks for $100.”
Aside from raising money for DMD, Alercio said the important part is spreading awareness. Ryan has a Web site at www.Ryansquest.org where donations can be made, information can be found, and the fight against DMD can be spread.