LIVINGSTON, NJ — Although several planned fundraising events for Trial Blazers for Kids (TBK) were canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Livingston Little League and Softball (LLLS) still found a way to continue its mission to support the nonprofit in memory of Jake Kestler, the 14-year-old Livingston resident whose battle with cancer inspired the founding of TBK.

Earlier this fall, LLLS representatives and Livingston residents Pat Ippolito, Mike Sorrentino, Dave McLaughlin and Jim Rothenberger presented Jake’s father, Josh Kestler, with a check for $5,000 that was raised during the 2020 season through monetary donations from more 61 LLLS families.

“We are so grateful to the Livingston Little League for their ongoing support for Trial Blazers for Kids and for our family,” said Josh, who founded TBK along with his wife, Gallite, in support of research to improve treatment options for pediatric cancers. “Pat Ippolito and the entire board has been so supportive of our mission and fundraising efforts.”

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LLLS partnered with the Kestler family two years prior to Jake's death in an effort to help the young player accomplish his objective of helping other kids battling similar cancers.

In addition to being an avid Yankee fan throughout his 14 years, Jake’s love for baseball also shone on the LLLS fields from age five through age 12. As he battled through two pediatric cancers, Sorrentino said the entire LLLS family was determined to help.

In 2018, Jake threw out the first pitch at opening day of what is now known in Livingston as Knock Cancer Out of the Park (KCOP) Day based on an initiative of the same name that matches each homerun hit in the Major League Division with $100 toward pediatric cancer research in the name of “Team Jake.”

KCOP, which has been highlighted on ESPN as part of its Major League Baseball (MLB) Sunday Night Countdown, was the brainchild of Jake’s doctor, baseball coach and long-time family friend Dr. Steven Arsht, who also had the team wear “Team Jake” jerseys that season along with Jake’s number (7) printed on them to raise awareness about the cause.

The initiative also carried over to the varsity baseball program at Livingston High School, whose team members named Jake as their honorary captain in 2018 and had their own “Team Jake” jerseys created in his honor. In the absence of a regular 2020 season due to the pandemic, the Lancers competed instead as “Team Jake” during the Last Dance Baseball Tournament held in July. During that tournament, the team sold "Team Jake" bracelets benefiting TBK. 

Other local organizations have also been inspired to fundraise for TBK, including the Livingston Youth Organization for Human Services (LYOHS), a student-led nonprofit that held a raffle earlier this year in which 20 percent of all profits were donated toward TBK.

“Despite all of the challenges that our son, Jake, experienced throughout his life, he always remained positive and was committed to helping others who were battling cancer,” said Josh, adding that his son was known for his upbeat attitude, optimism and desire to be an inspiration for others. “Our work with Trial Blazers for Kids is a way to honor Jake and keep his memory alive.” 

Although some events, including the first annual TBK Gala and plans to expand the KCOP campaign to Little League programs in other towns, have been postponed due to the pandemic, Josh said he expects these and other events to be rescheduled in the coming year and that TBK still had "a successful first year of operation.”

“We obtained our 501©3 tax-exempt status early in the year and have had many friends and community members help us to raise funds in various ways,” he said, adding that TBK is also funding its first trial either in late 2020 or early 2021 and that end-of-the-year fundraising campaign is currently in the works to coincide with Jake’s birthday on Dec. 3.

Noting that TBK is always in need of extra hands, Josh urged community members —particularly those looking for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah project idea or community service hours—to contact him at josh@trialblazers.org 

CLICK HERE https://www.trialblazers.org/ for additional information about TBK.

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