The parking lot of John Rennie High School was full on Jan 26. Around 200 people gathered in its modest gym on Sunday afternoon for the Sîan Bradwell all-star charity basketball game, which the West-Island community looks forward to every year.
Former Montreal Canadiens forward Georges Laraque and two-time basketball Olympian Lizanne Murphy were among a dozen other celebrities who came to play against the John Abbott College basketball team in support of the Sîan Bradwell Fund.
Mike Gaudin, who started the West Island Lakers All-Star Weekend in 2001, explained that the idea came after he met Deborrah Sharon Bradwell, who lost her 17-month-old daughter Sîan to cancer, in March of 1986. He was the president of the West Island Lakers Basketball Association at the time and wanted to find a way to contribute to the cause.
In the first year of the event, about $2,000 was raised. One of the Lakers’ coaches brought then-Alouettes player Barron Miles to the game, and since then, they have a full team of stars every year. “We have a large number of celebrities coming in annually, and their support has always been outstanding,” Gaudin said.
He explained that their presence attracts a large number of spectators, which increases participation in the fundraising activities they organize. “There was one year in the beginning that it was slow, there were not enough people,” said Gaudin. “So we came up with the idea of a pre-game auction, of ’Who Wants To Play With The Stars’ and we’ve been raising 500 to 600 dollars just to have a bidder to come and play with the celebrities.”
These activities have allowed the foundation to raise tens of thousands of dollars each year for the purchase of medical equipment and other items necessary to better diagnose and treat children with cancer.
“As [role models], we try to bring people together all the time in big events like this to show how big of an impact that we can have, and it works,” said Laraque. And by seeing their idols participate in such charities, he says he hopes that they will do the same. “It’s like a chain that’ll keep going.”
Laraque said that he feels like the duty of former and current professional athletes is to contribute to society. “The least we can do is to give back to the community.”
Alessia Di Giorgio, the special events advisor at the Children’s Hospital Foundation, explained that the events held by the foundation contribute a lot of the funding for the oncology department for the past 30 years. “The Bradwell family, both by blood and by volunteers and community, has raised an exorbitant amount for the children,” said Di Giorgio. “The West Island waits for the WILBA tournament in January, and the softball tournament in August. It’s really a staple of the community and something that we count on in terms of community events for the children.”
Bradwell started the foundation with her husband Ken after the death of their daughter. She has been organizing charity events to raise money for the fund for 32 years now.
“It’s absolutely amazing for me that everything is still going so long after Sîan died,” she said. “To be able to come back and see all my friends again and have people still so keen to help the Montreal Children’s Hospital, it’s an absolutely amazing feeling. I absolutely love coming back here.”
Today, over $1,600,000 has been donated in Sîan’s name.
Feature image by Ora Bar