Former North Shore High School students Jagger Gillman and Ethan Bradford founded the Hoops for Harrison tournament in 2013, a fundraiser that benefits the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. Their reason? To support Gillman’s younger brother, Harrison, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which attacks the digestive system, when he was 7.
Gillman’s mother, Rachel, said that the CCFA has been extremely supportive of her family’s efforts to raise money for the foundation. “They’ve been our go-to when we’ve needed support, and even encouraged us to send Harrison to a camp for children with Crohn’s and Colitis, she said. “We were afraid it was going to make him too aware and too focused on it, but they really convinced us that it was going to benefit him.”
Harrison has attended Camp Oasis for five summers. Rachel said she believes it has helped him accept his illness rather than let it define him. And it has led to his involvement in his own fundraiser.
Now 15, Harrison is contributing to finding a cure by organizing the event. This Saturday, the fundraiser, a three-on-three basketball tournament held at the Sid Jacobson JCC, will celebrate its fifth year.
“It’s great to be able to take on this leadership role, and take on the responsibilities to help find a cure,” Harrison said. “We’re raising money not just for me, but for everyone else that has these diseases.”
He took over the event when his brother and cousin went off to college last fall, founding the Hoops for Harrison committee with help from Cameron Mikes, a Roslyn High School student whom he met through the tournament three years ago. The committee comprises 17 young people from around the community.
“I started getting involved because I enjoyed basketball, and I was looking for something to do for community service,” Cameron said. “As I got to know Jagger, Ethan and Harrison, it became more than just community service; it became something that I like to do.”
Together, the two worked to expand the event to ensure its continued success.
A new feature at this year’s tournament will be the teen lounge, where participants will be able relax in between games by playing ping pong or Xbox. There will also be a three-point contest and slam dunk contest.
In the past, the fundraiser consisted of two separate tournaments for middle and high school students. This year, the event was expanded to include an adult tournament. The fundraiser also features an auction of raffle prizes, such as sports memorabilia, collected by the committee and through CCFA contacts.
Rachel said that although her son is taking on a bigger leadership role this year, he had contributed to the event in the past. “Even though he was young, he was working with [Jagger and Ethan], and getting people to participate from day one,” she said.
She added that the JCC will play a bigger role this year. “Previously we just acted as the facility for the event, but after talking with the family, we decided it would be amazing for the agency to get involved,” said Joey Falk, the JCC teen program supervisor. “I’ve been working with the teens to help plan the event, and we’ve been taking registrations and handling the marketing end.”
Falk added that working with the teen committee has been a “wonderful experience,” which has moved her. “I’ve been able to see their passion for the tournament grow as they continue to give back,” she said.
“Every year we’ve gotten more and more people, and now that the JCC is more involved, they’re able to spread the word to the community,” Cameron said. “In past years, we weren’t able to do that.”
The event is well attended each year. An exact number of participants from the 2017 tournament was not available because there was an interruption during registration last year. “There was a fire drill,” Rachel said. “It was a little chaotic for a brief period of time, but it was still successful.”
Hoops for Harrison raised more than $7,500 for CCFA last year. The committee hopes to reach the $10,000 mark this weekend.
“I feel like the tournament has made a difference,” Harrison said. “It gives people a better understanding [of Crohn’s & Colitis, and then [they want to] contribute to helping find a cure.”
“It’s great, but it’s not just about me,” he added, humbly. “We just want to keep evolving, keep growing, make more money for the foundation and keep doing it for many years to come.”
The tournament will start with the middle school game at 10 a.m., followed by the adult game at 1 p.m., and end with the high school game at 5 p.m. Admission is free for non-players, but there is a fee to participate in the contests. For more information, contact Falk at (516) 484-1545.