Braedyn Jacobs-Gulich of Elmira Heights said he dreams of someday playing for the New York Yankees and being able to give back to more people. The 5-year-old is off to a proper start.
Braedyn’s desire to help others was the impetus for a charity celebrity basketball game featuring NFL talent that will be played at 7 p.m. March 21 at Horseheads Middle School. Proceeds benefit research for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Horseheads athletics.
Last year the Horseheads boys basketball team had a night for popular Horseheads High School special education teacher Brendan McCarthy, who was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) in the summer of 2013. Braedyn, a water boy for Horseheads basketball, was inspired.
“He came up on the way home and said, ‘Why can’t we give back to somebody who has a disability or is sick?’ ” said his dad, Jeremy Gulich, a 2002 Horseheads graduate. “We got to talking about it and said we’ll come up with something.”
Father and son took a visit to Tampa, Fla., last year to watch the Yankees in spring training. During one of the games, a donation was made to a child with cancer and Braedyn’s urge to find a way to give back was heightened.
“He’s got a big heart,” Jeremy said of his son, now a pre-schooler at Cohen Elementary School in Elmira Heights.
With Braedyn attending Happy House Nursery in West Elmira with one of Brendan McCarthy’s four children, Keenan, it was a natural fit to contribute to something that would benefit him. With blessing from the McCarthy family and the Horseheads School District, Jeremy worked with former Hudson Valley Community College baseball teammate Rashad Barksdale, a former NFL player, to set up the contest.
“It touches home with Brendan,” said Jeremy, who does traffic control for road construction for a living. “We’re huge Yankees fans and Lou Gehrig, a former Yankee, it just fit well. It hits home big time.”
Gulich and Barksdale have remained close friends since attending Hudson Valley together in 2003 and 2004, with Jeremy visiting him when Barksdale played for the Kansas City Chiefs and Gulich attended William Penn University in Iowa.
Barksdale already had a celebrity basketball game set up to benefit his alma mater, Hudson High School in the Albany area, as part of his “It’s OK to Dream” foundation. Jeremy and Braedyn have attended those games every year, with Braedyn serving as water boy. Jeremy made a call and Barksdale wanted to help out.
Barksdale said in a phone interview the Horseheads charity game gives his group a chance to help more people, while at the same time expanding the foundation’s presence.
“I feel like any time you get an opportunity to contribute to such a large base and also to a person who’s popular in the community, it’s not only a blessing, it’s a great experience,” Barksdale said.
Barksdale played at the University of Albany after attending Hudson Valley and also played in the NFL with the New York Giants, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals. His effort has brought along former NFL player Mike Adams and current New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis to play on the celebrity team. Canadian Football League player Maurice Leggett of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was just added to the roster. Cohen Elementary School principal Andy Lutz will also compete on the celebrity team, along with local MMA and UFC fighters.
The alumni team is still being put together by Horseheads teacher and coach Kevin Hillman. Jeremy said he expects the team to include some current Horseheads boys and girls players who are not competing in spring sports, along with Horseheads alumni. Retired Horseheads boys basketball coach Steve Monks will coach the team along with Blue Raiders golf coach Ed Browning.
The evening will also include a dunk contest, 3-point shootout, raffles, a shooting contest sponsored by Texas Roadhouse and autograph signings. Proceeds will be raised through sponsorships and tickets, which are $6 for adults and $4 for students.
The Horseheads community has embraced the fight of McCarthy and his family. This season the Horseheads boys team held Team McCarthy Night to benefit ALS research.
“He’s such a nice guy,” Jeremy said of McCarthy. “I remember my last year of high school was his first couple of years of teaching. I just remember him being so nice to everybody and down to earth. He wasn’t a hard-nosed guy; he cared about people. When this hit him, it took everybody by surprise. And I think giving back to him is a great thing.”
On Twitter: @SGAndrewLegare
CELEBRITY BASKETBALL GAME
When: 7 p.m. March 21
Where: Horseheads Middle School gymnasium
Matchup: Celebrity team with NFL talent against Horseheads alumni
Tickets: $6 for adults and $4 for students; available at Gerould’s Pharmacy in Horseheads and Elmira, at the door the night of the game or through Denis Sweeney Enterprises at 769-5145.