Those who knew Kyle Piazza, a math teacher and coach at Braintree High School, knew he was fond of wiffle ball.
In fact, Piazza, who lost his battle with cancer in October of last year, was one of the best wiffle ball players in the nation.
“Kyle was a nationally ranked wiffle ball player, which I didn’t believe when he told me. He even participated in tournaments that sent him to Vegas,” said Dwayne Dahlbeck, a current teacher at Braintree High and friend of Piazza’s.
Now, almost a year after his death, Piazza’s love of the sport has inspired several former students to host a wiffle ball tournament in his name in an effort to raise money for The Jimmy Fund.
According to Brittney Rizo, who is organizing the tournament with her brother, Jared, the fundraiser was born out of a promise she made to Piazza.
“It was always in the back of my head,” said Rizo, who is currently in her fourth year at Northeastern University. “Last summer, we decided we wanted to do the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. A bunch folks … [participated. During that, Piazza] said I was the fundraising queen, so I promised we would work extra hard to raise more money next year. He passed away, but I wanted to keep that promise to him.”
Rizo grew close with Piazza during her junior and senior years of High School when she had him as a teacher. Jared followed in the same footsteps.
“There were a lot of families in the area with younger and older kids who loved him. He had a great personality,” Rizo said. “He was just one of those special teachers that understood the kids.”
Wanting to do more than just participate in the Jimmy Fund walk again this year, Rizo said her brother and she came up with the idea to host something a bit more unique.
“They wanted to do something that would not only raise money but would be connected to him,” Dahlbeck said.
According to Dahlbeck, the Rizo family isn’t alone in feeling Piazza’s loss.
“It was really tough. Kyle wasn’t just a teacher … he was just an integral part of the school community,” Dahlbeck said. ”When he passed it was tough for his kids, his colleagues. He was a bright guy with a great future, and it hit everyone hard.”
Despite the empty space in the fabric of the Braintree community, friends and family have since come together to keep Piazza’s memory alive.
“It helps in many ways bring people together, things like this. And we’ve done a couple things to raise money and there is a scholarship in his name. Some good has come out of it. But people are just trying to keep him in their thoughts,” Dahlbeck said.
It being the first year for the fundraiser, Rizo wasn’t sure how successful the program would be, but already there is a lot of interest.
“Every one we’ve mentioned it to hopes to come. We’ve had a lot of interest from a few businesses in Quincy [and Braintree] who have donated prizes, and we’re hoping to have an auction,” she said. “It will hopefully be a great event.”
At least 10 teams of four people each have already signed up, Rizo said, though they expect a lot more to participate.
“I think it’s going to go really well. Everyone has been so supportive, everyone in the town. I know there are a ton of students coming back from school just to participate. A lot of teachers want to help out [too],” Rizo said. “If it goes well enough, we hope to make it an annual thing, because [Mr. Piazza] would have loved that.”
The event will occur at Hollingsworth Park in Braintree on Saturday, Aug. 18 at 8:45 a.m. The tournament begins at 9 a.m. The cost is $90 per team.
Interested parties can fill out an application form and mail the bottom half to Brittney Rizo, 64 Graziano Drive, Braintree MA 02184 or email it to her at email@example.com.
All registration forms must be received by Aug. 16. Anyone who registered after must pay $150 to participate.
All players will receive a tournament t-shirt.
For more information, email Rizo.