Game of Hope brings fun, benefits to others

YOUNGSTOWN – According to Jim Davis, entertainment value is everything for a charity basketball game.

As a coach in the Game of Hope Classic in the Beeghly Center on Saturday, the Austintown trustee made sure to instill that into the game, acting like a real coach on the sidelines.

He harassed the referees, cracked jokes about practicing via Skype and heckled players on the other team in order to make the game more fun.

“First and foremost, this is all for the kids,” Davis said. “But if you can’t joke around, you can’t have fun, why do it? That’s the ultimate goal – to come out here, tease the opposing team a little bit, tease the players a little bit and just have a good time.”

As much fun as he had, the overlying theme was the charitable aspect.

The Game of Hope Classic started in 2005 as a fundraiser for local charities that try to improve the lives of chronically or terminally ill children. The game has featured prominent members of the community, bringing together politicians, teachers, business owners and members of the media.

The game spawned the Hope Foundation of the Mahoning Valley in 2007, and over the past six years, the non-profit organization has raised $75,000.

“We’ve been very successful over the years because of the community,” founder and executive director Tony Spano said. “If it wasn’t for the community, the foundation would not be where it is today.”

The basketball game isn’t the only fundraiser the Hope Foundation hosts. They have a bocce game in the fall, the High School Basketball Showcase in December and a wine-tasting event in the spring.

Spano said the organization looks for events that you can’t find around the area.

“If you really look at a lot of the events around, you really don’t see unique events,” Spano said. “People don’t really do a charity basketball game like this – with community leaders. We try to do something that’s different and unique so that people will come out and support it. That gets a lot of people involved. The more that people come together, the more that we’ll be able to be successful and really work with the community.”

This year’s version pitted Team Davis against Team Johnson, coached by U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta.

Davis coached the team that won last year’s game, but the 2013 game marked the first time Johnson coached a basketball game.

Luckily for the congressman, he knew to whom to turn for help. Johnson added Poland football coach Mark Brungard to his staff as a guide for coaching.

“I played in this game two years ago,” Johnson said. “This is my first stint as a coach. At 5 foot 7, you don’t coach basketball very much.

“Mark Brungard was a standout quarterback at YSU. So, when they asked me to coach and told me I could pick my assistant, I said, ‘I know who I want to go to – somebody who’s got coaching experience.’ He’s a great friend.”

In the end, Team Davis from retaining the trophy with a 46-36 win, despite a most-valuable player performance from Girard boys coach Craig Hannon.

Hannon carried the offensive load for Team Johnson, dropping a game-high 23 points without coming off the floor once. He managed to pull his team back from an 11-point deficit to three points late in the second half, doing his best impersonation of Girard’s star player Craig Randall before running out of gas at the end.

“I’m not sure if it was weird (to play) or just more exhausting,” Hannon said. “I’m just so out of shape. I think I need to do a little bit of running to get myself back into shape, but it was fun to get back out there.

“It’s always fun to play basketball, especially in an event like this.”