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Basketball Challenge Helps Fight Firefighter’s Cancer

Posted on 09 April 2010

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By Jesse Rosenthal

The Sag Harbor community is being offered the chance to come out and support a local hero this Saturday. The ‘Unite to Fight’ charity basketball game is in support of firefighter Tom Hand in his battle against Adrenal Cancer. The game will be held at the Pierson High School gymnasium at 1 p.m. on Saturday April, 10, to be followed by a spaghetti dinner at the Sag Harbor fire house from 4 to 8 p.m.

Nominal ticket prices have been set at $5 for adults, $1 for students, and free for children for the basketball game.

“We wanted to keep ticket prices down so we could get the whole community involved,” said Emilie Bennet, a close friend of Hand’s who is helping to coordinate the benefit.

Bennet, along with close friends Melissa Russo and Kevin Gilbride, are working in a coordinated effort with the Sag Harbor and Gainseville fire departments as the driving force behind Saturday’s events.

“We have all known Tommy since high school,” said Russo. “His energy has always been infectious and throughout this battle with cancer he continues to inspire people with his incredible show of courage and enormous heart.”

The basketball game will be a friendly showdown between Hand’s crew from the Gainseville fire department and the Sag Harbor fire department, many of whom are also Pierson alumni. Russo conveyed Hand’s desire to glean something good from an otherwise difficult experience.

“He expressed a particular desire to bring his two families, Gainesville and Sag Harbor, together,” Russo said.

Local businesses have shown a tremendous amount of support. Conca Doro, Il Cappuccino, Cromer’s Market, The Seafood Shop and Espresso are all providing food for the occasion. Both the Sag Harbor Inn and the Barons Cove Inn are offering discounted rates for the weekend. T-shirts, which have been sold throughout the week and will also be available at the game on Saturday were sponsored by Sean Beyel Plumbing and Heating.

According to Bennett, it’s no shock that so many have come out in support of this cause.

“Tommy is just such a kind-hearted guy,” said Bennett. A Pierson High School graduate, Hand was a volunteer firefighter in Sag Harbor in the late 80′s. A full-time paid firefighter with the Gainseville, Fla., fire department, Hand was diagnosed with adrenal cancer in late 2009.

Before Hand was diagnosed, he was involved in organizing a benefit for a girl in Florida. With two daughters of his own, Hand was touched by the experience according to Bennett.

“This benefit, It’s a pay-it-forward type of thing,” she said. “He’s planning on staying involved.”

Hand met people of all ages with cancer during his stay in the hospital in January. One of the young men he met there is coming with his entire family to support him this weekend.

Despite his condition, Hand remains in good spirits and is a constant source of inspiration for his family and friends.

“By raising money for Tommy, we hope to alleviate some of his financial burdens so he can focus his energy on getting better,” said Russo. “In that way he can continue to spread love and inspiration, which is his gift to us all.”

Tom Hand’s mantra, which is ‘Live, Love, Laugh,’ will be available to wear on your wrist in the form of a bracelet come Saturday. The bracelets are $5.

To see what is going on in Tom’s world, go to and search firefightertom. It is free to join and all of the posts from Tom and his family and friends are available to read.

For more information on Saturday’s events or to make a donation call Emilie Bennett at (631) 725-2454 or Kevin Gilbride at (631) 300-5195.

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