Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 14, 2014

Shirts off their backs offers hope to kids’ foundation

GREEN VALLEY — Bitter rivals on the baseball diamond, the Princeton Rays and Bluefield Blue Jays are going all out to throw their support behind the Jonathan Powell Hope Foundation — a Mercer County-based foundation that provides support, information and vital resources to children and families who are battling childhood cancer.

“It’s great to be able for baseball to support a locally based agency that is operated by volunteers from the local area and that puts every penny you raise to good use in the community,” Jim Holland, general manager of the Princeton Rays, said. “We were able to auction off 36 jerseys last night and raise $3,309 for the foundation. Bluefield’s event will be on Aug. 7.”

“Our goal here is to raise funds for the foundation,” Jeff Gray, general manager of the Bluefield Blue Jays, said as the players from both teams enjoyed a post-game meal provided by David Hardin. “I became aware of the Jonathan Powell Hope Foundation through Jim (Holland). It has been good to work together for this effort.”

Melissa and Tim Powell established the foundation after their son, Jonathan, died of Neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood tumor. Jonathan, or “Jon,” was diagnosed on May 16, 2000, and battled the disease until his death on Oct. 19, 2002. Like many parents, the Powells were more familiar with adult cancer, but learned a lot as they helped their son battle the disease.

“Witnessing Jon’s strength and courage throughout his illness has empowered us to develop this program,” the Powells wrote in the mission statement of the foundation’s website. “At Jonathan’s Hope. We don’t believe any family should experience financial exhaustion as a result of a catastrophic illness such as childhood cancer. We exist to help offset the overwhelming costs associated with a chronically ill child.”

The Rays auctioned off the jerseys of all of the players, the bat boys, mascot, managers and coaches Saturday night.

“I was taking phone bids and I got calls from California, Texas, Maine, Georgia and Chicago,” Andi Fleming, a member of the foundation’s board of directors, said.

“Did you mention Arizona?” Tim Powell said with a smile.

One of the Rays’ players, Nick Ciuffo, 19, from Columbia, S.C., the Ray’s top draft pick in the first round of the 2013 draft, bought his own No. 14 jersey for $250, and donated it back to the foundation.

“It gave me chill bumps,” Melissa Powell said as she hugged Ciuffo.

The young catcher has had personal experience with cancer. “My grandfather died with cancer,” he said. “We were very close. My mother is a cancer survivor. During my junior and senior years in high school, my team sort of adopted a young 13-year-old girl, Kennedy Branham, and considered her as being part of our team.”

The team won a state championship playing under the rallying call of “Finish it for Kennedy,” according to an article by Daily Telegraph sports writer Tom Bone. Ciuffo said that Branham passed away during the off season.

“I have other jerseys and uniforms hanging in my closet just collecting dust,” Ciuffo said. “If doing this helps the Jonathan Powell Hope Foundation, that’s all that matters.”

Holland said that Bill Cole contacted both the Princeton Rays and Bluefield Blue Jays and offered to host the event to help the foundation.

“As a parent who has lost a child, you pray with all of your heart that Jon’s battle wasn’t all for not,” Melissa Powell said. “When we meet the families of childhood cancer survivors and they tell us how the foundation has helped them, it helps us keep working.

“Tim and I truly believe that joy comes in the morning,” Melissa Powell continued. She said that seeing the two communities come together through the baseball teams as well as having “an incredible board of directors” keeps them working to help others. “There were more than 1,300 people at the game Saturday night,” she said. “It was great!”

“The Cole people just made this happen,” Fleming said. “In Princeton, every jersey sold. It was just great.” Both clubs gave five jerseys each to the Cole Automall as part of a future promotion.

The players of both teams stayed mostly to themselves during their meals. After all, they will square off again tonight at 7:05 p.m. at Hunnicutt Field to continue their Mercer Cup rivalry.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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