Amanda Brett is living proof that wishes do come true.
And, with her hot pink hockey stick in hand, a matching pink blouse and serious-looking black rings under her eyes, Brett, 14, a Keith Valley Middle School eighth-grader and team captain for the Hot Pink Panthers, was set on answering other wishes Friday afternoon.
Brett, along with the other eight-graders, kicked off the Keith Valley Challenge on Friday. The 17-hour-long hockey marathon, in its 34th year, raised a record-breaking $53,762 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. It’s the same group that will be answering Brett’s wish this spring by sending the Brett family to the Bahamas.
“I’m fine now and playing sports,” she said with a smile. “But, it was very scary for my whole family.”
After having headaches for a while, Brett was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2007 – at age 11. She proudly points out a pivotal date printed on her shirt – 11-14-07 – the day she had brain surgery.
Her mother, Dorothy Brett, said it’s been a “completely overwhelming” experience.
“We’ve lived it for the last few years,” Mrs. Brett said. “It’s turning something horrible into an incredible experience.”
Dennis J. Heron, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish Foundation of Philadelphia and Susquehanna Valley, said the school’s fundraising could cover six to seven of the 120 wishes in the pipeline. Heron said the kids’ efforts are really what count because they work so hard, year after year in rounding up money.
“This is the spirit of Make-A-Wish,” Heron told the students prior to the kickoff. “You’ve set the bar high.”
Keith Valley Principal Jonathan Kircher has personally seen the effort grow – both as an administrator of seven years and as a student during the 1989 challenge.
“The excitement of the challenge really builds on itself,” Kircher said. “The whole scope is much bigger … I see it growing every year.”
This weekend’s challenge is the school’s 35th since its beginning as the Billy Whitehead Marathon in 1977. Vince Papale, who this year celebrated the 35th anniversary of becoming an unlikely Philadelphia Eagle, was on hand Friday to share motivational words during school assemblies and to drop the game-starting puck.
For 1981 Hatboro-Horsham grads Andrew Keefer and Bill Craig, being back in the middle school Friday made them feel like teenagers again. Looking outside, they recalled playing hockey. And, in the hallway outside of the school’s gym, Keefer and Craig recalled how during lunch or a study hall, they brainstormed and eventually started the Billy Whitehead Marathon – later renamed the Keith Valley Challenge – in honor of their best friend, who had died of a rare congenital heart defect.
“Soon after the announcement, we were all kind of in shock. We decided to try to do some good,” said Craig, formerly of Horsham. “We all played hockey.”
And, ever since, hockey, plus a determined and energetic group of kids, has equaled the stuff that wishes are made of.