Members of the Abington Heights girls basketball team will be credited with many assists during their time playing for the Lady Comets. The ones they will likely remember the most are not recorded in the scorebook, but bring joy to children on Christmas Day.
According to head coach Vince Bucciarelli, his teams have helped make the holidays brighter for families in need for more than 25 years through their Adopt-A-Family program.
“When I first started coaching (at Abington Heights), the girls used to always buy the coaches presents,” Bucciarelli said. “For some reason, I said we don’t need anything else.”
Instead, Bucciarelli urged his players to help those less fortunate in their community.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we start doing something special for anyone in need.’ It started outside the area and then there was a need in the Abingtons. I connected with Debbie Shane, the nurse at Clarks Summit Elementary, who has helped find families,” he said.
All recipients of the food and gifts remain anonymous to Bucciarelli and his players. The only information they have is the age of the children and school they attend.
“I just wish we could see their faces when they open the presents,” senior guard Blair Cacciamani said, “because we don’t know them, we don’t know if they like their gifts, but we’re hoping.”
Bucciarelli tries to instill a sense of community service in his players and aims to foster good role models.
“I felt it’s for the betterment of my girls to always give back to the community they grew up in,” he said. “A lot of times, the younger kids who come to my (basketball) camp look up to these girls.”
The long-time coach believes his players have truly enjoyed chipping in to help the families over the years.
“They love it,” he said, “everytime you talk to any of the captains when they go shopping… they very much enjoy going to the stores and buying off the kids wish lists. They wrap all the presents individually with different color paper.”
Senior guard Maura Nealon enjoys the fact that the team’s good deed will have a positive impact on others.
“One of the best feelings is knowing they are going to have a great Christmas because we helped them out,” she said.
Senior guard Catie Nealon cherished the time spent with her teammates choosing the gifts.
“It’s a great bonding experience,” she said. “When we went shopping for these kids, we had so much fun. It really brings the team together. The most rewarding part is knowing they’re going to open the gifts on Christmas with a smile on their face.”
Cacciamani is confident one gift the team purchased will be met with immediate approval.
“Me and Catie really liked an air hockey table,” she said. “We said, ‘We’ve just got to buy it for them. We know they would love it.’”