When April rolls around and the National Hockey League postseason begins, so does a tradition that’s been around for years – the playoff beard.
It’s a practice that is implemented by the majority of players throughout the league and is a great way for fans to show their support by “growing one for the team.”
For some Penguins fans, it’s also the perfect way to raise money for charity.
As of May 12, over 800 Penguins fans participating in the team’s third annual Beard-A-Thon campaign presented by SUPERCUTS had raised over $67,000 for the Mario Lemieux Foundation.
For the second straight year, the Penguins led all participating NHL teams – 13 of the 16 playoff entrants – in this unique fundraiser through the first round of the playoffs.
The top three individuals not part of a larger group or members of the Penguins organization earned prizes. This year’s winners are first-place winner Philip Ford of Coraopolis, second-place winner Tom Crooks of Washington, Pa. and Kristopher Sperlik of Salt Lake City.
Ford, who as of May 12 had raised $5,275, decided to participate in his first-ever Beard-A-Thon in honor of his grandfather, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in November of last year.
Although Ford’s grandfather passed away without knowing what his grandson was doing, the staggering amount of money he was able to raise in his memory while supporting has provided solace for Ford.
“(My grandfather) never even got a chance to know that I was doing it,” Ford said. “But at the end of the day – 20 years down the road – it’s something that I can at least remember that even when he was hanging on, it was something that I did and couldn't even expect to do what I did and come out and say I won the Beard-A-Thon.”
Ford went to everyone he could possibly think of to let them know of his initiative, using social media outlets such as Facebook to reach out to family, friends, old and new co-workers. Word spread and the rest was history.
“This is something that I really wanted to do for my grandfather, and I said, if I really want this to be a success, I’ve just got to go everywhere,” he said. “Then after I kept going and people kept donating, I mean, I just kept up and kept going and this is where I ended up. From the beginning, I never even thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be anywhere close to where I ended up being. I couldn’t be happier.”
Ford received a helmet signed by the 2010-11 Penguins team and an autographed Mario Lemieux jersey for his efforts. He plans on displaying both priceless items in his home.
“I’m a huge Penguins fan so this is unreal for me,” he said of his prizes, especially the jersey. “It’s something that 50-60 years down the road, I’ll still have up in the corner.”
While this marked Ford’s first Beard-A-Thon, Crooks has participated in all three campaigns to date.
The event holds a special significance to Crooks as the Mario Lemieux Foundation supports a place that means a lot to him, the Children’s Home of Pittsburgh. Crooks and his brother, Rick, and sister, Jan, were adopted from the Children’s Home.
Since Crooks and his wife have been in love with the Penguins since they went on dates to games back in the 1980s when they were in high school, this is the perfect way for them to support two organizations near and dear to their hearts.
Crooks has raised over four times the amount he did last year, donating $4,300 as of May 12 compared to $1,400 during the 2010 campaign.
“We’ve been very fortunate in that last year, we were able to get some exposure,” he said. “We definitely added a few new people to our donor list, which is really great. I hope they keep doing this, because I think people understand and appreciate the good causes and the good things that we’re doing, and I think that even next year, we hope to expand the list even further.”
Crooks and his wife – who match all donations they receive – go the extra mile to pay it forward by donating the prizes they receive to raise money for other worthy causes. Last year, they collected $500 for the local YMCA swimming program their children belong to by raffling off the autographed Sidney Crosby
jersey Crooks won.
“We take the prizes that the Penguins provide us and we turn those into additional fundraising opportunities for a couple of other charities that we like,” Crooks said. “So we’ll take the Kris Letang
jersey and we’re going to raffle it off so we can raise money for the YMCA swim team that we’re involved in. So really, everything is really paying it forward in a lot of different ways.”
They also plan on taking the Mario Lemieux Foundation print autographed by Marc-Andre Fleury
Crooks won and raffling it off to raise money for the Marissa Boyan Scholarship Fund.
“To be able to do all of this and tie it all into the Penguins, my wife and I are both longtime Penguins fans, we are just so happy so be involved with the Penguins in any way that we can be,” he said. “So it’s really great to really be able to sort of leverage the whole love for the Penguins into helping out these great causes.”
Sperlik, a first-time Beard-A-Thon participant, was inspired to join the cause after seeing his brother-in-law grow a mustache for “Movember,” which raises funds and awareness for men’s health issues during the month of November.
“I don’t shave for the playoffs just to be in support,” he said. “But this is the first year that I actually did it for a cause.”
He credits his family with pitching in to help him raise $1,025 as of May 12.
“I just sent out an email to my family and said, you know, I’m doing this thing for the Mario Lemieux Foundation and just kind of explained to them what it was about and where the money was going,” he said. “Over the next couple of days, my family pitched in and I raised some money. … My family was quite generous.”
It was also a great way for Sperlik, a transplanted Pittsburgh native and sports fan, to show support for his hometown team.
It’s not easy to cheer on a team from over 1,800 miles away, but Sperlik’s managed to continue bleeding black and gold in Utah.
“It was kind of hard catching the games out here, I had to watch the first part of the playoffs on my computer because they weren’t televised out here,” he said. “So you’ve got to make do with what you can, but if you’re dedicated enough, you can find a way.”