Story by Joe Ginley '12 for the fall 2019 issue of Saint Ignatius Magazine.
When he was a senior at Saint Ignatius High School, Matt Colella ’14 hatched a simple idea. Not long after his own bout with cancer, Colella decided to dedicate his senior season with the Saint Ignatius football team to raising money for pediatric cancer research.
It was a simple idea. But the impact has been monumental.
Thanks to the generous Saint Ignatius community, Colella raised $7,000 in the first year for Kick-It for Cancer. But in the six years since, the Kick-It Champions program has extended far beyond Saint Ignatius. Thanks in part to Cathy Welcsh, the mother of Jack Welcsh ’20, the idea of devoting a season to pediatric cancer research has raised over $1 million nationally.
Without hard work by Colella, Welcsh, and other Ignatians, the idea may never have been realized.
The Beginnings of Kick-It
Kick-It began in 2009, a beautiful idea born out of difficult circumstances. Battling cancer, then-10-year-old Quinn Clarke decided he wanted to play kickball in his hometown of Chagrin Falls to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
The idea was a great one. The first Kick-It kickball game raised $5,000.
Cathy Welcsh joined Kick-It in January 2010. In the last nine years, she’s worked hard to raise awareness of the need for pediatric cancer research, which is critically underfunded.
“A lot of the dollars Kick-It raises go towards trials,” Welcsh explained. “I have a friend whose daughter had cancer, and her tumors grew with chemo. There was no hope, except for a new study at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The doctor asked her to come down and enroll in the trial. It saved her daughter’s life. That’s why we Kick-It.”
An Idea is Born
Matt Colella ’14 experienced the pain of pediatric cancer firsthand. As a 12-year-old, Colella fought through chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Before his diagnosis, Colella was a great soccer player, but the medications drained him of energy.
So, Colella took up kicking as a hobby in his free time. Along the way, he realized that he was a gifted kicker.
Colella joined the Saint Ignatius football team and instantly excelled. Head Coach Chuck Kyle ’69 is unafraid to kick long field goals, and Colella’s leg had plenty of range. Colella earned first-team All-Ohio honors as a junior in 2012.
Before his senior season, Colella hatched an idea. Why not use his God-given skills for good? Working with Welcsh, Colella set up a webpage for friends, family, and fans to donate a flat amount or a pledge per point.
“I thought of it as a way to help out. Having played in the Kick-It kickball games and seeing its effect, it seemed like a simple way to help,” says Colella. “In previous years, football was something I did because I enjoyed it. During my senior year, raising the money to benefit a good cause made it more fun. It was an extra motivation to do well.”
In the first season, Colella raised $7,000, enough money to fund nearly a month of cancer research, on the way to another All-State season. His efforts drew plenty of publicity and funds for Kick-It, along with admiration from his coach.
“Matt has a lasting empathy for those with cancer, particularly kids. He realized that he was fortunate and came up with the great idea to give back,” says Kyle. “Fans at our games would see him kick the ball so well, hear his story, became inspired, and it caught on. I’m very proud of him and what he started.”
As he headed to college on an academic scholarship, Colella felt good about his idea, but never imagined what would happen next.
Kick-It Champions Goes National
Cathy Welcsh immediately knew that Colella’s idea was brilliant.
She created Kick-It Champions as a simple program. A student-athlete just needed to register, send out the link to family, friends, and fans via email and social media, and then compete on the field. The beauty of the idea is in its simplicity to execute it. With a little hard work in spreading the word, student-athletes could make a big impact.
So Welcsh hit the road, traveling to kicking camps. She set her sights on partnering with Kohl’s Kicking, which host the largest camps for kicking, punting, and long-snapping in the country.
By working with Kohl’s, Welcsh helped to bring Kick-It Champions to the national stage. She spoke with thousands of high school kickers, helping them devote their seasons to raising funds for pediatric cancer research.
Just a few years later, over $1 million has been raised.
“It’s surreal. At the start, I didn’t realize it would become this big,” says Colella, now a developer at TPA Stream in Cleveland. “All credit to Cathy. She helped us to get off the ground, and she’s found all kinds of ways to expand it. What she’s done is amazing.”
With Welcsh’s hard work, Kick-It Champions has extended far beyond football, with wrestlers, lacrosse players, and many other athletes taking up the cause. Any stat can be used to help raise money.
Welcsh has also aided Kick-It’s partnership with Alex’s Lemonade Stand. The national organization has a medical advisory board, which helps to determine what studies should receive Kick-It proceeds.
Impact at Saint Ignatius
As Kick-It has expanded, Saint Ignatius students have continued to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
In each football season since 2013, Wildcat kickers have dedicated their seasons to Kick-It. This season, junior Declan Mangan and senior Rory McConville have taken up the cause. Through ten games, the dynamic duo had already accounted for 58 points and $7,000.
Saint Ignatius students have also done plenty of work through Kick-It kickball games at Wildcat High. The annual kickball game is dedicated to the memory of Kevin Healey ’07, an outstanding Ignatian who lost his life too soon due to cancer. Jim Brennan ’85 and Tom Healey ’77, Kevin’s dad, lead the effort at Saint Ignatius.
This spring, the 10th Annual Kevin Healey Memorial Kick-It Tournament will be held on Wasmer Field.
“It’s been a wonderful blessing to see his name live on in a way that helps other people,” says Healey, a longtime teacher at Saint Ignatius. “When you go through life, bad things happen, but you hope that good can from them. This is a wonderful positive thing that is helping other people going through what we went through.”
Even now, as current and future Saint Ignatius students battle cancer, Kick-It continues to have a big impact. The Saint Ignatius community has raised $130,000 for Kick-It and pediatric cancer research. That’s enough money to fund about 16 months of cancer research.
But the work is far from done.
“This is all about funding research to find cures. I’ve met so many families looking for hope," Welcsh says. "Even after kids are finished with treatment, the devastating reality is they are often left with lifelong consequences. My hope is that Kick-It inspires everyone to do more for kids with cancer."
To donate online, visit ignatiuswildcats.com/kickit
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