MBB Feature: ‘Cats, fraternity team up in charity effort

Michael Zipf

A couple weeks ago, the basketball team of St. Mary’s Villa for Children, a school that primarily educates underprivileged children from Philadelphia, enjoyed a life-changing experience. As the children of St. Mary’s, led by the members of the Villanova chapter of the FIJI fraternity, entered the Pavilion, countless smiles glistened throughout the stadium. The children stood in awe watching Head Coach Jay Wright conduct an afternoon practice.

“To see the smiles on the kids’ faces was priceless and always something that I will remember,” said sophomore Rob Bacigalupo, FIJI philanthropy co-coordinator.

Bacigalupo, fellow co-coordinator Mike Feron and FIJI President Nic Alegre, along with Villanova Coordinator of Basketball Operations Jason Donnelly and Wright, played instrumental roles in initiating and organizing the festivities.

“FIJI is extremely thankful for the amount of time and effort that Jason Donnelly, Coach Wright and the rest of the men’s basketball team put forth in helping us make this event possible,” Bacigalupo said. “To see the smiles on the children’s faces and the enthusiasm in their voices was truly rewarding and gratifying.”

As the children of St. Mary’s arrived at the back of the Pavilion, members of FIJI greeted them with posters of the men’s basketball team. Afterward, Wright addressed the children, stressing the importance that the Villanova basketball program places on attitude. This message resonated with the children as they realized that the attitude one carries on the court often translates to the attitude one possesses off the court.

As the children watched the practice, their eyes stood intently fixated on the players, studying their every move in hopes that one day they, too, could be a part of the Villanova basketball program.

“Bringing these kids out to see the dedication and hard-working attitudes of the Villanova players and coaches is something I think these kids will always take with them,” Alegre said. “The basketball program has a lot of great role models.”

After the practice, the children of St. Mary’s enjoyed a surprise autograph session with the players.

The fan favorites of the afternoon were senior guard and tri-captain Mike Nardi and sophomore forward Shane Clark. Many of the children recognized Nardi as the integral member of last year’s famous four-guard attack and admired the relentless heart and determination the senior guard demonstrates. Clark, who grew up in inner-city Philadelphia and experienced many of the same obstacles and adversities that the students of St. Mary’s face, was somebody the children really connected with and admired. Clark echoed Wright’s statements, reiterating the importance of attitude to the St. Mary’s players.

“Don’t let anybody or anything ever keep you down; just keep having a good attitude and working hard, and eventually you will reach your goals,” Clark said.

In addition to meeting the players and watching practice, the children of St. Mary’s received the opportunity to shoot around on the court with the players. Wright even allowed the children to participate in the team’s practice, as they served as distractions while the team shot free throws. As the children’s visit to Villanova culminated, many children indicated how grateful they were for this opportunity.

“It’s not often we get to see a game up close or meet the players and coaches,” St. Mary’s Director Brent Davis said. “You could tell that the advice that the players and coaches gave to the children really inspired them. We thank Villanova for accepting us with open arms as this was a great opportunity for the kids to network with coaches and progress their education.”

Finally, the children of St. Mary’s received one last surprise. Each member of FIJI donated his ticket to the men’s basketball team’s season finale against Syracuse to the children of St. Mary’s. Both FIJI and the members of the basketball team truly touched and changed the lives of the members of St. Mary’s Villa for Children.