BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — On Thursday night, the Lancaster and Williamsville North hockey teams will meet on the ice for the second time this season, but the game has a bigger impact than the final score at the end.
The Spartans will be hosting their fourth annual Teddy Bear Toss game, with the proceeds from the teddy bear sales going to benefit Crisis Services.
“It just brings a different feel to the game,” Williamsville North senior David O’Donoghue, this year’s student organizer, said. “After the first goal either team scores, just having the teddy bears come onto the ice. You’re raising awareness for suicide prevention, so it’s bigger than a game.”
“Four years ago, one of the students at Williamsville started this event in honor of his family. They had experienced a suicide loss and they wanted to do something to bring awareness to suicide prevention, but kind of have a fun way of doing it,” Crisis Services CEO Jessica Pirro said. “The hockey teams got together and they created this teddy bear toss.”
“They’ve been doing it the last four years now, and it really has helped to raise money by selling the teddy bears and that comes back to Crisis Services to help in our suicide prevention work.”
“We’re bringing this awareness to the people because not everyone realizes that there’s people there for them, so when we do things like this, it looks good for the little kids in our schools looking up to us saying wow I want to do that someday,” Williamsville North junior Anthony Clontz said.
For too long, there has been a stigma surrounding mental health. But having events like these — fun, light, but important events — keeps the conversation going, and that’s really meaningful to all involved.
“It’s really important. As a team, we’re all brothers here and we have each other to talk to, but some people don’t have that,” Williamsville North junior Jacob Penetrante said. “When you’re alone, it’s not that great. Having someone to talk to, having a number to call to know that you’re going to be fine, it’s something great. You can’t replace it.”
“To know we’re helping out a great organization that provides for the Western New York community and lends a hand out to the citizens, it’s a great feeling,” O’Donoghue said.
“Even if it doesn’t go too far outside of the school, we’re all close with each other and have each other, just letting other people know that we’re there for them, whether it’s everyone else in the school or the community, we’re there for each other,” Williamsville North senior Sam Gattuso said.
In the fourth year participating in the Teddy Bear Toss, Crisis Services is grateful to continue to be involved.
“I think what it is is really a partnership that every year we’re taking a moment to honor this family that started this event, but also making sure that we’re keeping the conversation around mental health present by doing this event every year,” Pirro said.
Hockey players at both Williamsville North and Lancaster have been selling the teddy bears at school for $5 a piece, and after the first goal is scored in the game on Thursday night, the crowd will throw the bears onto the ice. The Legends and Spartans square up at Northtown Center on Thursday night, and Crisis Services CEO Jessica Pirro will drop the ceremonial puck at 8:25 pm.