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High School Sports

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge educational for high school athletes

Broadneck football coach Rob Harris took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge twice. He's not on Facebook and didn't have proof of the first dousing, so he had ice water poured over his head a second time.

That didn't bother him. Harris would take a few more ice water showers if it would raise additional money for research into the neurodegenerative disease at the heart of the challenge, a social media fundraising wave that has swept the country this month.

Harris has a personal connection to ALS. His wife Sarah's uncle, Johnny O'Brien, a former Severna Park football player, was 56 when he died in January of the condition widely known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"At Christmas, he was in a wheelchair and he could barely talk, but other than that, he was fine," Harris said. "In one month, he died. I've never seen anything like it. The change in his body in one month was unbelievable. My wife's family is really big into the runs and donating and so for us, it's cool to be a part of that."

Many local high school coaches and athletes have participated in the challenge, which has raised $41.8 million in less than a month, according to the ALS Association.

Wilde Lake girls soccer coach Davia Procida, who accepted the challenge from senior Ali Mallo, laughed when she said it's a good way for athletes to get back at coaches for all the conditioning drills they've been put through in preseason.

At South Carroll, principal Jeff Hopkins challenged the seniors on the football team.

"I thought it would be a good team-building exercise for the boys and it would raise awareness for them," Hopkins said. "As athletes, they should consider themselves blessed that they can do what they can do."

Like Hopkins, several coaches wanted their players to learn more about a disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, often paralyzing its victims, who usually die within two to five years. There is no cure.

Meade football coach Rich Holzer teaches health and said ALS is not part of the curriculum.

"I think our kids are getting exposed to something they didn't know was out there. As a health teacher you teach them about cancer and STDs and all these other ailments, but ALS is not even on the radar, so unless they have a family member directly affected by it, they don't know about it," said Holzer, adding that he heard about ALS at a young age only because, growing up a Yankees fan in New York, he knew about Lou Gehrig's struggle.

At Calvert Hall, football coach Donald Davis stood in the walkway of the stadium while his players dumped ice and water on him after senior long snapper Nick Donatelli made the challenge. Davis then challenged all the other football coaches in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference.

"I think the phenomenon is great," Davis said. "I said to my kids, 'I pray people don't lose sight of the cause because ALS is really, really debilitating,' but at the same time just the simple fact that it's gained this much attention, the awareness in and of itself is good. Now you have some people who knew nothing about ALS now asking questions about it. It's educating people."

Procida said she was surprised at how much her players knew.

"I believe people see it and Google it," Procida said. "When they were making the videos, I was going to suggest saying some facts about ALS, because it's not something that's taught in schools, but just talking to my players, they know a lot about it."

South Carroll football player Blake McDermott said the Cavaliers learned from their principal's challenge.

"I think not only us but anyone who does it raises awareness," McDermott said. "It's a great way of fundraising and a great way of getting more people to learn about it. I remember learning about it in class, but I didn't know as much about it as I do now."

Like many who accept the challenge, McDermott said the players are planning to donate to the cause as well. When the fundraiser began, anyone challenged had to donate money to ALS research or take the ice bucket shower. However, many, including these coaches, have done both.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral after Peter Frates, a former Boston College baseball player who is living with the disease, posted his challenge about three weeks ago.

#SCFootball Seniors take the #ALSIceBucketChallenge & nominate VarSoccer, VarCheer & the VarFballCoaches

— SC Cavs Football (@SCCavsFootball) August 17, 2014

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