HEADstrong's Colleluori Classic About More Than Just Lacrosse


Kerry Walser (left) and Cara Scanio both took part in Hofstra's HEADstrong Foundation Nick Colleluori Classic on Sunday at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Jackie Gatti didn’t know Nick Colleluori personally. But that changed almost immediately after she stepped onto the Hofstra University campus.

Now a graduate midfielder, the Massapequa native is well versed on Colleluori’s legacy and the importance of the annual HEADstrong Foundation Nick Colleluori Classic, the highlight of the men’s and women’s programs Fall Ball schedule.

“We’re lucky and grateful to be here playing for those that can’t be,” Gatti said. “It's not necessarily about the scoreboard, but we’re doing it because we can and Nick Colleluori and so many others that fought cancer, they were relentless. They kept fighting. We’re blessed and lucky enough to be able to play the sport that we love, so we do it for the greater cause here.”

Colleluori was a freshman on the Hofstra men’s lacrosse team when diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a blood cancer affecting the lymphatic system.

It was during his 14-month battle with cancer that Colleluori established the HEADstrong Foundation. Before dying on Nov. 28, 2006, Colleluori asked his mother Cheryl to carry the torch and help those battling cancer and dealing with the financial and emotional hardship that comes with that fight.

“Today is about more than lacrosse. It’s about impacting lives. It’s about family,” Cheryl Colleluori said during a special presentation during the HEADstrong Colleluori Classic at Shuart Stadium Sunday. “It’s about building community — 15 years ago, a promise was made to our founder, Nicholas ‘Head’ Colleluori, that people following in his footsteps with a cancer diagnosis would benefit from his life.”

On Sunday, Hofstra, Stony Brook, Rutgers and Bryant competed on the women’s side after Hofstra, Lehigh, Wagner and Quinnipiac men’s teams stepped on the field Saturday.

As part of that ceremony, Gatti was named Hofstra’s recipient of the Nick Colleluori award. Emma Spears (Bryant), Sophia Cardello (Rutgers) and Haley Dillon (Stony Brook) were also recognized.

“This award was born here at Hofstra and kept Nick in the game when he was sidelined due to cancer treatment,” Cheryl Colleluori said. “He picked an MVP of each team and awarded them with this award during the 14 months that he was undergoing treatment. This award goes to a player who embodies the relentless spirit and drive to improve the lives of others just like our founder.”

During the ceremony, which came in the middle of Sunday’s six-game exhibition schedule, the Colleluori family presented a $2,000 check to Izzy Gamarra and her family. The 15-year-old diagnosed with Astrocytoma just completed her third round of treatment and is experiencing vision loss because of that treatment.

She is the latest recipient of financial help from the HEADstrong Foundation, with Cheryl Colleluori estimating more than $25 million was raised for more than 23,000 patients and parents from across the country in 15 years.

“However, it’s not an easy task, but demand for our services is a revolving door,” she said. “It’s absolutely outrageous. To give you an example, last Saturday alone, we received 150 requests for help from across the country. It’s just been an unbelievable journey.”

And it’s a personal crusade for Gatti and her teammates. Not just because Colleluori was part of the Hofstra family, but because cancer has affected her current teammates.

Cara Scanio’s mother lost her fight with breast cancer in 2020, while Ashlyn McDonald’s brother had a more favorable outcome.

“I don’t think you really understand unless you’re directly in a situation where you have a family member battling cancer, or you’re indirectly involved through one of your players or a family friend going through it,” Hofstra coach Shannon Smith said. “When you do, it really opens up your eyes to the battle and the relentless pursuit of the never-give-up attitude and what it means to have the support and have love and have care.”

On Sunday, Hofstra played Stony Brook, Bryant and Rutgers. They weren’t the Pride’s first games of the fall season. Or their last. But they were the most important.

“We talked about it before the game started that it’s a relentless pursuit of everything out here today,” Smith said. “And if you don’t understand why we’re playing out here, reevaluate. This is a lot bigger than you or us as a team. It’s about the event and fundraising towards doing better.”

And in addition to raising funds, the Hofstra women’s players were tasked with an accounting of their personal relationships leading up to Sunday's event.

“We told every kid to make a phone call to someone, someone special you haven’t talked to and to reach out and tell them how much they mean to you and how much you love them,” Smith said. “Because that’s what really matters in life.”


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