Story and photos by Alice Gerard
Senior Contributing Writer
Air quality on June 7 and 8 was so unhealthy, as a result of the winds that brought in smoke from wildfires in Canada, that Grand Island NY Baseball & Softball (little league) canceled all games.
With the fourth annual Strike Out Kancer event coming on June 10, a notice was posted on Facebook asking for donations to the basket raffle be brought to the park, despite the game cancellations.
“Someone will be at the snack stand from 6:30-8 for the teams to drop off their baskets for the Strike out Kancer Event being held on Saturday!” the statement read.
By June 10, air quality was, once again, in the moderate range, and Strike Out Kancer began at 8:45 a.m. with a ceremony to which all teams were invited. It included a ceremonial first pitch, thrown by Eric Fiebelkorn, the 2022 Relay For Life honorary survivor. After he threw the baseball, both the games and the other activities began.
Activities at Strike Out Kancer included hair tinsel, face painting, basket raffles, a 50/50 split raffle, and a velocity tent, donated by 3 and 2 Baseball from Cheektowaga.
Michael Kwiatkowski, president of Grand Island NY Baseball & Softball, said he started this event after his wife Kelly’s uncle was diagnosed with cancer: “We came up with the idea to support him in the fight. We had former board members who had cancer at the time, and we had lost someone, as well. It just seemed to fit. It came together very nicely to promote the event. All proceeds go to Ride for Roswell.”
Kwiatkowski said he has participated in the Ride for Roswell for the past 10 years and that he has been a member of the extra mile club every year. Riders who raise at least $1,500 are listed as members of the extra mile club.
“Last year, in our third year, we had 65 baskets from the teams and from local community members, who raised over $3,000 for Roswell,” he said. “You can see today that, definitely, they came out again to support. We have a lot of big items and baskets and small items. We have shirts for sale.
“After our item last year, we were given a brick to put at Roswell Park, and I had engraved on it ‘Grand Island Little League Strike Out Cancer. Never give up.’ It will always be in the Roswell garden, next to Roswell Park. I have a brick. My dad didn’t have cancer, but he unfortunately passed away in 2019. I put a brick in there just so I could know he's in a safe spot as a remembrance. This is a great way for the Grand Island community to be recognized for all their hard work and dedication to the community.
“If we (raise) another $3,000, that would put us up to $10,000 overall in the four years that we’ve been doing this. That would be a really cool accomplishment.”
Fiebelkorn said he was grateful for the opportunity to throw the first pitch.
“It meant a lot to me to be asked to throw out the first pitch,” he said. “Being a survivor, I get a reminder of how close I came to leaving this life pretty much every day. Those reminders are a blessing to me as they help me calibrate and center my priorities and my spirit, so I operate and carry myself in a way befitting the opportunity that I’ve been blessed in living on.
“Events like this are further personal reminders, but more importantly, they help show others out there, who are either fighting have a friend or family member who is, or maybe even will receive a tough diagnosis themselves sometime soon, that people do survive and even thrive after being told, ‘You have cancer.’
“Sometimes, it’s very hard for me to do these types of events because they stir up a lot of emotions that can be challenging to digest and deal with. But, having to relive a little of the painful memories often, helps me remember how blessed I am to still be here and how good God is.”
“I just hope this event continues, long after my presidency is over,” Kwiatkowski said. “I can’t thank the coaches, the families, the sponsors, and my fellow board members for all they do to support and accept my visions.”
Little league teams listen to the Strike Out Kancer ceremony prior to the start of the day’s games.
Some of the baskets donated to the basket raffle.