GI Tickets expands, celebrates veterans at sporting events



Frank Scicchitano

In 2011, current University sophomore Jack McDonald started the GI Tickets Foundation as a high school student in Northern New Jersey. More than three years later, the non-profit organization that works closely with professional sports teams and corporate sponsors has given away tickets worth an approximate total of $45,000 in face value to current and former members of the United States Military.

Inspired by a Vietnam Veteran that he caddied for at a local golf course, McDonald wanted to provide our military’s soldiers with an opportunity to attend high-profile professional sporting events. After a short leave of absence from the organization during his freshman year of college, McDonald and his friend Peter Sollecito, also a sophomore at Villanova, got the foundation back on its feet during the fall semester of 2014.

“We want to come across as a high-quality organization, where the experience for our donors and the soldiers we work with is first-class,” McDonald, a walk-on member of the University’s track and field team, said during an interview earlier this month.

McDonald and Sollecito enlisted the help of a few of their classmates from the Villanova School of Business to help pursue this mission, including sophomores Patrick Rourke and Denny Grace. Rourke and Grace, who is a walk-on member of Villanova’s men’s basketball team, each come from family backgrounds that value charity and giving back to the community, and that is reflected in their unwavering dedication to this cause. 

“My parents had always told me that I need to own my experience and I need to find what I want to do,” Rourke said. “Jack came to me one day and presented this and I was pretty much on board with it from day one.”

The foundation’s vice president, Kyle Kroeger, is attending the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, and he has joined these University students who have made tremendous progress over the last year toward the organization’s goal of becoming a “high-quality” operation.

GI Tickets focuses on differentiating itself from other organizations by providing soldiers with premium seats at professional sporting events. The foundation also prides itself in making sure that nearly 100 percent of every donation is used to fund the ticket purchases for the soldiers. This is a result of the students paying all marketing and overhead costs out of their own pockets.

“The average value of tickets that we give out is about $120,” McDonald said. 

“They can go to a minor league baseball game or sit in the nosebleeds on their own dime.” Rourke went on to explain that, “to have these premium seats at center-court and center-ice and to network with some of the people who are donating the tickets to them is an experience that we feel we can really facilitate.”

This first-class initiative taken by GI Tickets was exemplified early in its existence when the New Jersey Devils of the NHL contacted McDonald one day before Veteran’s Day in 2011. They reached out to the foundation to invite soldiers to their home game the following night, and GI Tickets delivered. They were able to send 24 active members of the United States Army who were stationed at Ft. Dix in New Jersey to a Devil’s game where they received a standing ovation from the crowd during one of the game’s stoppages. 

Since revamping the foundation late in 2014, the students have been receiving support from professors in VSB. One of them, Stephen Liedtka, is a member of the organization’s board of directors and is one of its most recent donors. He donated six tickets for soldiers to sit at center-court in Madison Square Garden during the Wednesday and Thursday sessions of the 2015 Big East Tournament in New York City.

Along with Liedkta, Professors Rosario “Bud” Drago and Joseph Suprenuk have also invested their time and expertise into GI Tickets. With their help, the organization looks to extend beyond this small group of Villanova students and increase its presence on campus.

In addition to their plan to expand their operation to include more University students, GI Tickets has found success in forming partnerships through the school’s alumni network.

McDonald said that he and his peers had nearly a dozen calls with alumni scheduled in the coming week and had already contacted over a dozen others since the beginning of March.

“I don’t think this charity would be possible without the Villanova network,” Rourke said. 

“The alumni have been so awesome with us [and] they’ve been so supportive,” Grace added. “The sense of community at Villanova is unparalleled.”

By reaching out to different regional alumni chapters, GI Tickets has been able to build relationships with professional sports organizations and other corporate partners all over the United States. They have received donations from the MLB’s New York Yankees, New York Mets, and Cincinnati Reds as well as a number of NBA teams including the Philadelphia 76ers and Detroit Pistons.

GI Tickets has received a commitment from the Chicago Bulls for next season and they are having discussions with the Washington Wizards and the San Antonio Spurs as well.

Outside of countless professional sports front offices, GI Tickets has also been working with Bill McDermott, the CEO of global corporate giant SAP and a graduate of the Penn’s Wharton School.

McDonald, Rourke and Grace, along with a number of other committed college students at Villanova and the University of Pennsylvania are optimistic about the growth of GI Tickets and it’s potential to become a prominent non-profit organization for many years to come.