MADISON, NJ – When Joe Reel learned his second-grade student Spencer Jacovini was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he jumped into action.
Reel, who at the time was an assistant basketball coach at Governor Livingston, founded the “Believe in a Cure” basketball charity event in Jacovini’s honor.
In his first year as Madison’s head basketball coach, Reel has brought his fundraiser to the Rose City. Madison High School hosted its first “Believe in a Cure” event on Saturday.
Jacovini, now a seventh-grader, became an honorary Dodger for the day, received Madison jersey and joined the team on the bench throughout the event. Though the young student was able to beat cancer, the treatments left him blind.
The Lady Dodgers (5-4) clinched a fourth straight victory at Saturday’s event, a 53-24 win over Vernon (1-9). Reel said this year was the first that a girls basketball team participated in “Believe in a Cure.” Fair Lawn defeated the boys team 46-55.
Girls head coach Stephen Hughes said he and his team were excited to be part of the event.
“It opens your mind to realize you can help other people,” he said.
Though Jacovini inspired Reel to hold the “Believe in a Cure” fundraiser, the event—now in its fifth year—has evolved into a way for Reel to inspire his players.
“This provides more life lessons than an entire season,” Reel said. “Getting (players) to know Spencer and seeing his outlook on life and how he’s able to fight through all the adversity is just phenomenal.”
Reel said he was happy with the community’s receptiveness to this new event, which raised nearly $3,000 for the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation on Saturday.
“Everybody has been affected by cancer at some point, whether it be a friend or a family member,” he said.
For some Madison High School students and staff, this event was sure to hit home after the Jan. 1 death of former girls basketball coach Gene Melleno, who passed away from leukemia.
Reel said he has high hopes for next year’s fundraiser and is open to any suggestions that might help make the event bigger and better in 2019.
“I’m just really looking forward to growing this into a big community event,” he said.