A Growing Community in Red Fights for a Cure

Driving up route one and passing Rodman Arena in early February, one might have seen a red sign with the phrase “4youIwillfight”. Behind this one-word phrase is a movement surging through the Walpole hockey community and far beyond. Amidst a serious diagnosis, the Walpole community has rallied around Tara O’Brien Pacella and her family to fight for a cure for ALS. 

Marianne Sullivan

On Feb. 12, Rodman Arena hosted Walpole’s first ALS Awareness Night during a hockey doubleheader. Both girls’ and boys’ varsity teams hosted the Milton Wildcats, and during both games’ intermissions, fans were able to participate in the “Chuck-A-Puck” fundraiser and buy shirts to support ALS awareness. 

O’Brien Pacella, a mother of three who was recently diagnosed with ALS, was the catalyst to all of the recent and widespread awareness. O’Brien Pacella’s daughter, Sophia Pacella, is a senior captain on the Walpole girls’ hockey team, and son David Pacella is a sophomore on the boys’ team. 

“Shortly after my diagnosis, it became clear that my kids needed to be a part of this fight with me,” O’Brien Pacella said. “I knew we couldn’t just sit back and do nothing, so we decided to come up with something, sell some shirts and donate some money.” 

Immediately after the “4youIwillfight” movement was created, a community was formed, especially within the sport of ice hockey. 

“My mom got diagnosed during hockey season, so my team was one of the first groups of people I told,” Sophia Pacella said. “Having my teammates just made it easier to talk about.”

Marianne Sullivan

After O’Brien Pacella and her family began to raise more to donate to ALS research, they wanted to do something different to involve everyone in one place. Students and faculty all wore their “4youIwillfight” shirts or any red clothing to school earlier that day, and at night, packed Rodman Arena for both girls’ and boys’ varsity games for the sole purpose of support.

“Just being at the rink and putting myself out there was really hard, but I knew that I had to do it to raise awareness,” O’Brien Pacella said. “Just walking in and seeing all that red fill the stands with all of the kids, adults, my friends and family, made everything so worth it.” 

After watching the boys’ game, the Lady Rebels prepared for their game, when head coach Joe Verderber revealed a surprise he had been working on. Verderber designed new red jerseys that had the “4youIwillfight” logo and O’Brien Pacella’s initials across the front. The team put on their new jerseys under their white home jerseys to be revealed in front of the crowd. 

Marianne Sullivan

“Everyone was shocked when Coach Joe revealed the new jerseys,” Jenna Malone, senior assistant captain, said. “It was such an emotional moment and made us realize that this season so far and going forward was about much more than just hockey.” 

Just before the girls’ team took the ice against Milton, Verderber revealed these new jerseys to the crowd, O’Brien Pacella and her family directly. The team would wear these jerseys for the remainder of the season. 

“From that moment on, my whole team and I were playing for my mom, and every time we stepped on the ice, we were fighting alongside her,” Sophia Pacella said. 

After this jersey ceremony began to gain views and the girls’ team finished their season wearing red, more teams began donating. 

“Coach Verderber has brought so much awareness to this disease just by the one simple and selfless moment of wondering how he can support these kids, creating these jerseys for the girls, not telling anyone about it and then revealing them at the game,” O’Brien Pacella said. “That is taking coaching to another level.”

Marianne Sullivan

As the girls’ hockey season came to a close, the boys continued into the playoffs. Both of these seasons, however, had more significance than just their records. 

“Going through this with my team makes everything seem much more hopeful,” David Pacella said. “They are my second family.” 

In spite of adversity, the “4youIwillfight” community proves resilient as it fights alongside O’Brien Pacella. 

“Through everything, I have come to realize the kids of this community are extremely compassionate and display so much kindness, which really showed on ALS day,” O’Brien Pacella said. “Through all of their efforts, they have raised so much awareness.”