Chantilly On the surface, it was a basketball tournament like any other. Boys in colorful uniforms competed against each other in a school gym, while moms sold concessions outside in the hallway.
But the whole event, Saturday, Feb. 9, at Westfield High had a much more special and serious purpose. It was a fundraiser for an SYA family — dad Pete Bendorf who coaches, sons Zach and Jake who play baseball and basketball, and mom Debbie who cheers them on.
Donations were the price of admission, and proceeds from refreshment sales and a 50-50 raffle went to the family, as well. And when it was all over, $8,500 was raised — all of it going directly to the Bendorf family.
“It’s a pretty amazing group of people, that’s for sure,” said Pete Bendorf on Monday. “It’s a difficult time for all of us. But being that our kids are involved in SYA sports and Debbie and I were both school teachers, we crossed paths with a lot of people and have lots of friends, so everyone wanted to help out. It’s a bit overwhelming, but we’re grateful for that.”
The tournament was originally going to be held in Richmond but, when it got cancelled, it was moved to Westfield, where the SYA eighth-grade boys’ Turnpike Teams hosted nine other teams in an event running from 3-10 p.m. Initially, it was also intended as a fundraiser for other charities.
“But when we got an e-mail Tuesday from our basketball commissioner saying Debbie’s body couldn’t take chemo treatments anymore and she was in hospice, we decided to help out one of our own and do this tournament to help the Bendorfs,” said SYA dad Tom King of Centreville’s Sully Station community.
“They’re a great family and we’ve all enjoyed being around them,” he continued. “We feel so bad about this situation and just wanted to do whatever we could.”
NEARLY 60 SYA basketball players competed Saturday, and their commissioner, Charlie Velasco, was pleased that the fundraiser came together so quickly. “Once I sent out the e-mail to the teams, they flew with it and got the word out,” he said.
“We put this together in four days,” said another SYA basketball commissioner, Kara Stamper. “The outpouring of love and care for the Bendorfs was phenomenal. It’s a small way of showing our support for this wonderful family, and it just warms my heart to know this is the spirit of SYA.”
Both Pete and his brother Mark — who coached Robinson’s varsity football team for 14 years — have been teachers, coaches and people involved in youth sports for years. Debbie taught first grade at Wolf Trap Elementary, and Pete’s coached more than 30 years.
He taught math at Lake Braddock from 1985-88, and math and P.E. at Centreville High from 1988-92. He was Oakton High’s head football coach for the next 11 years, was director of Student Activities at Madison High for three years and was head football coach at South County High before coming to Westfield two years ago.
So, said Stamper, “The Bendorfs are well-known and loved throughout Northern Virginia. And my son and Jake have been friends for a long time. Debbie’s strength, wit and courage are inspirational. She loves her family, and everything she does is geared to that. She’s a remarkable woman.”
AT SATURDAY’S FUNDRAISER, Astrid and Gary Lohman of Centre Ridge were among nearly 50 SYA volunteers helping out. They were at the front table, manning the donations jar. Others sold food and beverages and ran a 50-50 raffle.
“Ciro’s [New York Pizza] donated five, huge trays of ziti, and Glory Days gave us sandwiches at cost,” said Astrid. “We’re also selling water, cookies, chips, etc., with all proceeds going to the Bendorfs.”
“Pete’s coached and given back to kids, so we wanted to give back to his family,” added Gary. He said people contributed whatever amount they desired, and one woman gave them a check for $500.
King’s son, Trent, 14, an SYA basketball player and eighth-grader at Liberty Middle School, made a generous donation of his own. He donated his $72 savings and got a girl he knows to contribute $20, as well, for $92 total.
“The Bendorfs’ son, Jake, plays on the fifth-grade, house basketball team I coach,” said Trent. “I knew what his mom had and felt really bad for the family. So I wanted to give them all my money to help them out. It’s such a sad thing; I pray for them every night.”
Westfield math teacher Kristi Gordon came Saturday with her family. “I work with Pete, and my husband Tim coached with his brother at Robinson,” she said. “And Tim and Pete were both FCPS activity directors.”
Most importantly, said Gordon, “We wanted to come support the Bendorfs. When a family goes through this, they need all the support they can get. I keep up with Debbie’s CaringBridge site and she’s always positive, and Pete’s a great guy. Their kids are my kids’ ages, so I can’t imagine what they’re going through. They’re a tremendous family and this is just terrible.”
SYA mom Angie Ritz of Sully Station coordinated the volunteers selling concessions. She lives near the Bendorfs and knows them through the youth-sports organization. “They’re just an amazing family,” she said. “They’ve always gone to all the games and been involved with the schools.”
Melissa Lottchea, an SYA baseball and basketball volunteer, has known the Bendorfs about six years and called them “community- and family-oriented. Debbie always puts her family first. When other moms asked her to join them for dinner and a movie or a ‘girls’ night out,’ she’d say, ‘No, I want to make dinner for my family and tuck my kids in.’”
Even when Debbie was first diagnosed and undergoing heavy doses of chemo, she came to her children’s games. “And whenever you asked her how she was doing, she’d say, ‘I’m doing great; today’s a good day,’” said Lottchea. “She was never negative and always had a huge, radiant smile.”
However, she’s also realistic. “In her last blog, she wrote, ‘It is what it is; life can’t be changed,” said Lottchea. “Now, we just want to support her and her family because they always support everybody else.”
Anyone else who’d like to contribute to the Bendorfs may do so through PayPal via http://asimpleplea.blogspot.com/2013/02/a-simple-plea.html.