Bullets rally to defeat ALS

Take  ALS Yard raises  $55,000 in five  years  and it’s personal

In the fall of 2012, members of the Gettysburg College baseball team’s leadership council gathered with head coach John Campo P ’07 for what they thought would be an ordinary preseason meeting.

It would lead to a philanthropic effort that is still going strong.

Two years earlier, Tommy Kirchhoff, a friend of the Gettysburg College baseball program, was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Kirchhoff was the son of Bill ’63 and Jean Kirchhoff ’64, generous supporters of the baseball program, for whom the Bullets’ home field is named.

Campo was inspired by a fundraiser held by a student-athlete at Tommy Kirchhoff’s high school alma mater, and he floated the idea of starting a similar initiative at Gettysburg. He asked for someone to take charge, and Nate Simon ’14 jumped at the opportunity.

“I think we, as a team, were troubled to hear about Tommy’s diagnosis and wanted to express our support to him and the rest of the Kirchhoff family,” recalled Simon. “The situation was much bigger than baseball. We wanted to make a difference to the Kirchhoffs and other families who have had to deal with this terrible disease.”

Left to right: Bill and Tommy Kirchhoff and Nate Simon in 2013.

Left to right: Bill and Tommy Kirchhoff and Nate Simon in 2013.

So, since 2013, the baseball team has been dedicated to the off-the-field initiative Take ALS Yard, its name a clever use of baseball jargon for hitting a home run, or “going yard.” Now an annual event, the project has raised over $55,000 for Project ALS, a national organization dedicated to ALS research.

Shortly after the creation of Take ALS Yard, Robert Borman P ’05, father of Rob Borman ’05, a former baseball team captain, was diagnosed with the same disease. Take ALS Yard honors his memory, as well. Kirchhoff and Borman passed away within five months of each other, in 2014–2015.

A different player assumes leadership of the project each season. After Simon had served as the point person during its first two years, it was handed off to Cory Karagjozi ’15 in 2015, Luke Lawrence ’16 in 2016, and J.J. Lucido ’17 this year.

Before each season, the team purchases Take ALS Yard hats and shirts to be sold at every Gettysburg home game. Donations are also received online at takealsyard.com. All merchandise bears a “TK/RB” (Tommy Kirchhoff/Robert Borman) insignia, also emblazoned on the back of the team’s batting helmets.

This past fall, the baseball squad joined up with the softball team for a joint home run derby for Gettysburg students. All of the proceeds raised were split between Project ALS and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which the softball team supported this past year. Many athletic teams at Gettysburg regularly engage in philanthropic endeavors.

“We are very honored by what the team and the College has done,” said Bill Kirchhoff, “especially since it has been perpetuated each year. It’s so important to keep awareness of this horrific disease in the forefront. Tommy was a very humble person, and he was incredibly honored by what they did.”

Coach John Campo P'07

Coach John Campo P’07

“I strongly believe that this effort is a clear extension of the culture that Coach Campo has created within the baseball program,” said Rob Borman. “Winning is the goal, but equally important is the preparation for life. The fundraising campaign is an incredible piece of a well-rounded college experience. It’s an amazing effort, spearheaded by an amazing group of student-athletes, parents, and coaches.”

“I think it’s important that their legacies are not forgotten,” said Campo. “Also, I think it makes our players socially aware and puts things in perspective for them. I know it certainly does for me.”

Valerie Estess, director of research at Project ALS, said the funds help allow some of the world’s most effective researchers to double down on experiments, including ALS drug testing and stem cell disease modeling. “We are especially grateful to coach John Campo and his scholar-athletes for continuing to play and work in support of research that will touch us all,” she said.

Take ALS Yard merchandise is sold at home games.