Southern Berks Storm dedicates tournament to soldiers

The Southern Berks Storm (front L to R)Courtney Gabbett, Livi Cozzone, Naish McPeak, Hannah Koch, Arionne Colbert, (back) Coach Mike Cozzone, Coach Lexie McLaughlin, Erika Cinquanto, Maddy Willman, Bella Burgui, Morgan Prigmore, Coach Ray Cinquanto. Photo by J. Finneran/Tri County Record

The Southern Berks Storm, a local AAU tournament basketball team consisting of sixth grade students from the Daniel Boone, Owen J Roberts, and Twin Valley school districts, dedicated a tournament held at the Twin Valley High School on May 10 – 12 to members serving in the U.S. military.

The dedication came about when Storm head coach Ray Cinquanto discovered that Madison Willman, a Daniel Boone student and his team’s center, has an older brother, Marine Lance Corporal Joshua Willman, deployed on the troop transport USS Carter Hall in the Middle East. Cinquanto contacted Madison and Joshua’s mother Michelle about dedicating the tournament to Joshua and his comrades. The idea soon picked up steam and more flair was added when Michelle presented the idea of having the team wear special digital camouflage jerseys and socks.

Those who came out to the tournament included the other members of Josh’s family, as well as a number of friends, including close friend Eric Mallard who himself serves in the U.S. Army, were in attendance.

The Storm gave members of the crowd small American flags to wave at the game and created special patriotic posters which were displayed in the gym. The girls also collected donations from the tournament attendees and have turned those donations into care packages that will be sent to Willman and his comrades on the Carter Hall. The items purchased for the care packages were chiefly foodstuffs that are reminiscent of home – such as snack foods, Gatorade, and chewing gum - and the packages also will contain letters which the Storm players wrote to Willman and the Marines, as well as the posters they hung in the gym for the tournament. Once sent, those packages, which are roughly the size of a shoebox, will take about two to three weeks to reach the soldiers.

“This was a great bonding experience for our team and the community, and we are proud to have been a part of this,” said Coach Cinquanto.

The team finished with a 1-3 record in the tournament, though it is only fair to note that the Storm, who typically defeat all other sixth grade teams, challenged themselves in the tournament by playing seventh grade teams as well.

“There were definitely some people who came to the tournament who did not know at first that it was being dedicated to Josh and all of the military, but soon they were all really getting in to it,” said Storm assistant coach Mike Cozzone. “It was a special night. I think that it is important that we have things like this to remind people about our soldiers serving overseas. Just because it is quiet at home doesn’t mean that there isn’t something going on all the time for these men and women serving overseas.”

For Storm Assistant Coach Lexie McLaughlin the tournament also had special meaning, as Josh and Madison are her cousins.

“Josh is more like a brother to me than a cousin,” she said, “He is also the godfather to my children. While Josh knows that we are up to something he doesn’t know exactly what’s coming. I think that it’s great that the girls are doing this for not just Josh, but for others on (the Carter Hall) too.”

Cinquanto, who has five years of experience as an AAU coach, said that it is superb to have the sport of basketball used as a vehicle to facilitate a better understanding of how important it is to help others.

“For being 12 years olds these girls are very mature,” Cinquanto said. “I know that they understand the sacrifices that (servicemen and women) make when they enter into the military. We are coaches but we need to teach our kids life lessons as well.”

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