An annual fundraising event will use the games of bowling and basketball to help a South-Western City School District student fulfill his dream of returning to the football field.
Proceeds from the Debbie and Leo Nunan Foundation's annual basketball benefit game and pro-am bowling tournament will be used to help cover the cost of a special helmet that will allow Norton Middle School seventh-grader Gabe McLaughlin to play football for his school next year.
The 13-year-old was diagnosed three years ago with a low-grade brain tumor. Surgeons were able to remove the tumor completely.
In February 2017, tests revealed Gabe had developed a high-grade brain tumor. He spent seven weeks last summer in Cincinnati undergoing radiation and oral chemotherapy and will return to receive oral chemotherapy through June.
"He's a huge football fan and he played before in the Grove City Kids Association," said Bobbie McCleery, Gabe's mother. "His doctors have cleared him to play football again as long as his tumor doesn't return and he takes precautions to protect his brain and head.
"Gabe's a strong, determined guy," McCleery said. "More than anything, he wants to get back out there playing football. He likes tackling and running. He just likes to play."
A new helmet designed by a Seattle firm, Vicis Inc., that has begun being used by the National Football League and college players is expected to help allow Gabe to play.
The Vicis Zero1 helmet is designed to soften the blows to the heads of football players, offering four layers of protection.
"Because Gabe's had two brain surgeries and cancer, he can't afford to have a traumatic brain injury," McCleery said. "He already, in essence, has CTE."
CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma, according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation's website.
By coincidence, Gabe's favorite NFL football team is the Seattle Seahawks.
The helmet is expensive, costing $950. And it isn't a cure-all or guarantee of absolute protection.
"VICIS has been very clear to state all along that no helmet can entirely prevent the risk of concussions and head injury in football and would never want to imply that they can," said Bryan Gibbs, an account executive with Barokas PR, who works with the VICIS team.
Gibbs said although the helmet was ranked the top-performing helmet by the NFL/NFLPA in the 2017 annual testing, VICIS has been very clear to state all along that no helmet can entirely prevent the risk of concussions and head injury in football.
"His doctor knows about the helmet and says as long as the tumor does not return, he should be all right to play," McCleery said. "We'll scrimp and save everything we can to find the money to buy the helmet. For the Nunan Foundation to step up like this is so wonderful. We've gotten so much support from the community."
Her son's strength is a source of inspiration for her, she said.
"Despite all the hard times he's had, Gabe is stronger emotionally than anyone I know," McCleery said. "He's determined not to let cancer stop him from doing what he wants to do. He tells me, "Mom, I don't want my cancer to define me.' "
Gabe is a fitting choice to be this year's foundation beneficiary, said Joe Nunan.
Nunan, a Grove City native, started the Debbie and Leo Nunan Foundation in 2008 to honor his sister and father, who both died of cancer, and to support worthy causes in the community.
"Anything that we can do to help Gabe live out his dream, we're pleased to do," Nunan said. "My father was a huge football fan himself. ... He'd be pleased that we're helping Gabe get to play football."
This year's foundation events will again include a benefit basketball game and a weekend of bowling events.
The fourth annual benefit basketball game will pit the Columbus Police Bulldogs against the Nunan Foundation All-Stars.
The game will be held at 7 p.m. April 19 at Ready High School, 707 Salisbury Road, Columbus.
"A large part of our 'all-stars' team will be made up of Bishop Ready alumni," Nunan said. "We'll also have former OSU basketball player Will Dudley on the team."
Tickets will cost $5 at the door.
The foundation will host the sixth annual PBA Central Region Debbie and Leo Nunan Memorial and Pro Am Bowling Tournament April 20-22 at AMF Stardust Lanes, 2434 Old Stringtown Road in Grove City.
The festivities include a pro-am event starting at 7 p.m. April 20.
"This is a chance for amateur bowlers to bowl along with PBA professionals and former Buckeye athletes who are part of the Buckeyes Beyond the Field."
Buckeyes Beyond the Field is a group of former Ohio State University football players dedicated to serving the needs of veterans, youth and families in the central Ohio community.
"Getting to be part of an event with both pro bowlers and Buckeyes, it's a double thrill," Nunan said.
The advance registration fee for the pro-am event is $30 and the cost is $35 the day of the event. The fee includes three games and bowling shoes.
The professional tournament will include preliminary rounds at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. April 21 at Stardust Lanes.
The top 16 players will advance to round-robin match play that begins at 10 a.m. April 22. Total pins plus bonus will determine determine the champion.
Admission to the professional tournament is free.
More information about the foundation and the upcoming events is available at facebook.com/PbaCentralRegionDebbieLeoNunanMemorial.
Registration for the pro-am tournament can be made by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or participants can sign up the day of the event.