ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is freezin’ for a reason

This summer, Jeff Swick has seen hundreds of videos on various social media sites of friends, athletes and celebrities taking the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Swick, the founder and CEO of Playing Hardball Against ALS, feels directly connected to each of the participants, whether it’s an old college buddy or millionaire actor.

“It’s turned into a craze, that’s for sure,” Swick said. “It’s bringing a recognition to our cause that has never really been seen before.”

As for experiencing direct results to his 2-year old organization, the response is mixed.

“I’ve noticed the exposure of our shirts because a lot of people have worn our shirts in their videos,” Swick said. “Unfortunately, we have not been blessed with a lot of feedback financially.”

That changed on Thursday.

The Indian Creek baseball team, with head coach Mike Cottis and assistant Mitch Hukill, donned their PHAALS Foundation T-shirts and made a sizable donation to Swick’s charity.

Cottis and Swick first met in summer of 2013 when Swick, a northwest Ohio native, was speaking at a coaches clinic in Columbus. Matt June, Cottis’ teammate on the Wintersville High School baseball team, was diagnosed with ALS – or, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – in September 2009.

Swick came to Indian Creek High School, as June and his family drove up from Palm Harbor, Fla., for his special induction into the PHAALS Foundation Hall of Fame on April 25.

Cottis was presented with a special plaque at the ceremony that now hangs at John Muth Field, home of the Redskins, in Mingo Junction.

Cottis and his team helped take part in the Ice Bucket Challenge at the field on Thursday.

“People are saying the ice bucket thing is just goofy,” Swick said. “I say, ‘So what?’ It’s something that everyone from a 4-year old to an 80-year old can do.

“I’ll watch a million videos of people dumping ice water on their heads if it means less families have to watch a loved one suffer from ALS. All you have to do is dump a bucket of ice on your head. It pales in comparison to not being able to tie your own shoes or brush your own teeth.”

As of Tuesday, the ALS Association had received $22.9 million in donations nationwide compared with $1.9 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to Aug. 19), according to the organization’s website.

On Wednesday alone, the organization raised $10.3 million. But Swick says those numbers can be skewed a bit.

“The percentage of what is being donated to research is not a lot compared to the money they’ve brought in,” he said. “There’s salaries to be paid and other expenditures to take care of.”

That’s not the case with his organization.

“We have no staff, everything we do is from volunteer services,” Swick said. “We try to express to everyone that is aware of us, we really utilize every donation to give back – 100 percent of the donation goes into out programs. That’s not for operating expenses.”

The PHAALS Foundation puts on a Diamond Dreams program which allows someone suffering from ALS and their loved ones to take part in a bonding experience such as an RV trip across the country or a three-month long vacation in Florida. The organization also sponsors a scholarship and research grant.

The Redskins’ contribution of more than $125 will directly help one of those three initiatives.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is freezin’ for a reason

Talking with a friend a few weeks ago, the Ice Bucket Challenge was quickly brought up as a topic of conversation.

“Yeah, I was nominated to do it,” he said to me. “But don’t worry, I didn’t challenge you.

“I know you won’t do it.”

Not long after, it was brought up with my girlfriend.

“There’s no way you would do that,” she said to me, somewhat abruptly. “You’re a little wimp.”

Challenge accepted.

I didn’t do the Ice Bucket Challenge out of spite. I was eventually nominated by a high school friend, who was a college pitcher at Youngstown State, and a college friend, who was previously an all-state football player.

I also didn’t do the Ice Bucket Challenge to fit in. I wanted to make it about what it really is, well, what it is supposed to be about.

Bringing an awareness to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is the main goal.

It’s easy to log onto any social media site and see a flood of people dousing themselves in cold water. It’s also easy to overlook the reasoning behind it.

Some people probably don’t even know why they’re doing it; a majority may just want to fit in. But the whole premise behind the Ice Bucket Challenge is to spread the word about the fight against ALS.

Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player, is the innovator behind the Ice Bucket Challenge. He was diagnosed with the disease in the spring of 2012. He created a simple, yet freezing cold, way for his friends and old college teammates to help with his battle.

You either take the plunge (and donate $10) or stay dry and give $100 to an ALS organization. Of course, for many frugal men in their 20s – like myself – the cheap way is to give $10 and suffer a brief period of frigidness.

Though many people are going above and beyond.

In a 24-day span, the ALS Foundation has raised more than $40 million. It’s about more than just money, though. It’s about awareness.

Jeff Swick, founder and CEO of his own ALS organization – the Playing Hardball Against ALS Foundation – is seeing a spike in interest for his cause which directly helps the families of those who suffer from the disease.

For the second-straight year, Swick was invited to a Fort Wayne TinCaps Minor League Baseball game. He had a table set up with brochures and other information, last summer, and last Sunday.

“People would come up and pass right by a year ago,” Swick said. “Only a few people would stop and ask what we were.

“This year, everyone comes up to us, voluntarily, with a bunch of questions. They see that we’re involved in the fight against ALS and they want to know how to help out because they know about the Ice Bucket Challenge.”

Technically, the Ice Bucket Challenge is just a fad. A productive fad, nonetheless, but it’s eerily similar to the Harlem Shake dance craze, “Call Me Maybe” lip-syncing and taking selfies on a cell phone.

“Everybody has so much to do in today’s society,” Swick said. “You’re constantly active and your daily functions vary, depending on your schedule, your mood – all that.

“People are now taking time out of their day-to-day schedule to recognize this.”

Swick has an intimate connection to the disease (a childhood neighbor passed away from ALS) and a personal relationship with the origins of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Notre Dame head baseball coach Mike Aoki was Boston College’s mentor when Frates was a player there in the early 2000s. Notre Dame played the University of Toledo this past season and Swick had a table for his organization set up at the game.

He was able to talk with Aoki and bond over the cause, sharing ideas on how to spread awareness.

“Conversations between both organizations helped bring the baseball family together,” Swick said.

What’s funny is that this has to be reaching way beyond Frates’ original expectations. The Ice Bucket Challenge has gone from the baseball family to the worldwide community.

Some teenagers in the Ohio Valley may not have known what ALS even was before they saw their best friend’s sister’s girlfriend dump a bucket of water on their heads on a Facebook video.

This new generation focuses on day-to-day trends, like Swick said. Our attention span is apparently very limited. It doesn’t have to be about ice buckets or ALS, but people today are focused on being better people and giving back.

It might take a challenge to contribute to something bigger than yourself. It might take a challenge to donate money to a charity. But it’s evidently making the world a more giving place.

No one should wimp out for that mission.

(Peaslee, a Youngstown native, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at or followed on Twitter at @thempeas)