Last week, on a chilly Friday afternoon at Tampa’s Sparkman Wharf, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Ryan McDonagh and Alex Killorn hosted the McDonagh-Killorn Kancer Jam, a fundraiser to help kids and young adults at Moffitt Cancer Center.
Ryan created the Jam after attending a similar event put on by his old Rangers teammate, Kevin Shattenkirk, in the New York area last year. He saw kids and parents playing frisbee with NY Rangers players and decided he wanted to host a fun event like that in Tampa.
When I arrived at Sparkman Wharf with Zack, I discovered that a green playing field had been set up right along the river. Luckily, high nets were set up to catch flying frisbees, as people of all ages practiced before the event officially started.
The field was divided in half, with 16 barrels set up as targets for catching frisbees. Each field had two lines of cans set up on each side, with teams of two playing at a time, throwing and blocking frisbees. Music was blasting, people were mingling and teams were coming together for the first round of competition.
Everyone was dressed in sweats and shorts, enjoying the briskness of the day, so it was hard to tell who the Lightning players were without their pads and helmets and their names adorned on the backs of their jerseys. Without their skates, they also appeared to be normal height.
Fortunately, Doug, our cameraman, had already been there shooting footage of the teams practicing, and as a diehard Lightning fan he was able to point out the players to us.
We had heard that Ryan had been injured the previous night while blocking a shot against the Penguins, so I didn’t know what condition he would be in for this frisbee event. But I caught sight of him rolling around with his leg propped up on a scooter, throwing frisbees, laughing and having a great time.
Brian Breseman, senior director of communications for the Lightning, was busy getting players set up with teams of parents, kids, and avid fans. Each round was to be 11 minutes long, with the goal of getting to 21 and advancing to the next round. Spectators could also head over to Splitsville across the way and check out Lightning memorabilia in a silent auction.
To play in this tournament each team had to commit to fundraise before the event, with a minimum donation of $1,500. The more each team raised, the better the chance they had to play with a certain Lightning player. Over the loudspeaker came a Happy Birthday shout-out to Steve Stamkos, whom I saw across the field decked out in shorts, a t-shirt and a hat turned backwards, having fun throwing frisbees and chatting with his team.
We made our way over to where Ryan was overseeing everything, and in between the 11-minute rounds we were able to interview him about his time playing on the Rangers, being that team’s captain, and his transition to sunny Florida to play for the Lightning.
The owners of the Lightning team do a lot for the community, encouraging their players to go out and make a difference, like appearing at Dunkin Donuts on Kindness Day to pay for and hand out coffee and donuts. But it was great to see two players host this event, rally their teammates and do something they believe in for a good cause.
It was Ryan’s idea to put this event together, and Alex stepped up to get involved when he learned that the funds would go toward helping youngsters with cancer.
Interviewing Alex, we learned that the Lightning drafted him when he was still in high school in Deerfield, Massachusetts and allowed him to go off to college to improve his game, where he played for four years in NCAA Division 1 Men’s Hockey for Harvard University. Then in 2012 he joined the Lightning and has been playing here ever since, breaking career records each season. Right now, he has 21 goals, a career high, and there are still 30 games left to play.
Both men were laid-back, relaxed and happy to talk with us, share information about the event and take pictures with numerous Lightning fans on hand.
When I viewed their fundraising page this morning, I was happy to see that they had reached their goal of raising over $100,000 for this event. But the Jam Kancer in the Kan Foundation is always accepting donations to help people battling this disease www.jamkancerinthekan.com. To still donate to Ryan and Alex’s event go to www.crowdrise.com/mkjam.