BEACON FALLS — The forecast on Saturday was filled with impending showers, but the sun was in full bloom as kickballers and volunteers descended on the Pent Road Recreation Complex.
The threat of thunderstorms couldn’t put a damper on the enthusiasm of hundreds of participants at the fourth annual Susie Classic kickball tournament.
The tournament drew 16 teams and over 200 players to compete and raise money for The Susie Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps people from Connecticut who have been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Ryan Matthews, executive director and founder of The Susie Foundation, said the tournament has built a community around the organization that his late mother, Susan Matthews, would be proud of.
“This event is a huge testament to the legacy that my mom left,” Matthews said. “She was a connector. She was somebody that engaged you like you were the only person in the world when she was talking to you.”
Susan Matthews, who is the inspiration for The Susie Foundation, was diagnosed with ALS in 2009 and died in 2011. Ryan Matthews served as his mother’s primary caregiver in her final months. After Susan’s passing, Matthews felt that he had been forever changed by the experience, as he began questioning it all.
“You search with religion and faith and clichés like ‘God gives his toughest challenges to his strongest soldiers.’ All of this somehow felt empty to me. I really didn’t have an answer to why,” Matthews said. “What does it mean to [Susan], but [also] what does it mean to me?”
Matthews’ search for an answer led him to start The Susie Foundation in honor of his mother.
The Susie Foundation hasn’t just drawn in individuals personally affected by the illness, but also those indirectly impacted. For Aaron Smith, The Susie Foundation’s chairman of the board, seeing one of his closest friend — Matthews — go through the loss of his mother at the hands of ALS inspired him to get involved. According to Smith, his involvement through the organization has only made his desire to serve stronger.
“It’s really important to know that every dollar we collect here through registration [and] sales of various other items goes to helping those families,” Smith said. “Whether we’re writing checks to help provide grants for medication or equipment or we’re going out and actually helping families on the ground, as I become more involved and [meet] patients with ALS and their families, it’s becoming more and more personal to me.”
The tournament raised a little over $9,300 this year for the foundation.
For Dustin Mills, of New Haven, Saturday marked the first time he played in the Susie Classic. He heard about the event through friends and immediately jumped on board. Mills, who plays in other kickball leagues around the state, gathered a group of friends and formed Team Shark Attack as a way to give back.
“I’m a huge man of volunteerism and nonprofit [organizations],” Mills said. “When I heard about this I thought ‘why not?’ it’s 30 bucks, [and that’s] not a lot of money for a full day. It’s a great cause. I’m definitely big on giving back to the community and donating money to a notable cause.”
The Susie Foundation’s next big fundraiser will be Susie Fest, a beer and music festival that will take place at 2 Roads Brewery in Stratford on Sept. 10. The event will feature food, drinks, yard games, and live performances from local artists Tommy Vallen and Eva Walsh. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased online at www.thesusiefoundation.org.