Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Billy Lake Memorial ALS Research Fund


Phil, Fran Dunphy, Fran O'Hanlon, Coach Miller from Penn, Michael Barkann, Doug Kammerer and Jamie Apody from Channel 6 turned out to play in the celebrity game at the Billy Lake Basketball Marathon on Saturday at Msgr. Bonner HS. Great fun and the lads still have some moves left in them. Jamie has a great shot and knows how to play the game.


Billy Lake Memorial ALS Research Fund

The Billy Lake Memorial Research Fund was created as a tribute to BillyLake, a Havertown resident, who died from ALS in 1992. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis is a progressive, usually fatal muscular disease, frequently referred to as 'Lou Gehrig's disease' because the famous Yankee first baseman, Lou Gehrig (1903-1941) suffered from it.

The primary objectives for the Billy Lake Memorial Research Fund are as follows:

~ Provide funding to support an eventual cure for ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).

~ Fund community and national programs directed towards ALS Research.

~ Provide educational scholarships in the name of the Billy Lake Memorial Research Fund.
The 2009 Billy Lake Marathon raised over $23,000 for ALS Research and Education Grants.

Jamie Apody sinks her threes

Don't challenge 6ABC sportscaster Jamie Apody to a three-point-shooting contest. On Saturday, Apody rained down threes on the court at Monsignor Bonner High, as the lone female on the celebrity team at the Billy Lake Marathon. The annual event raises funds to combat ALS. Apody's teammates included coaches Fran Dunphy of Temple, Phil Martelli of St. Joe's, Glen Miller and John Gallagher of Penn and Fran O'Hanlon, of Lafayette, Comcast's Michael Barkann and Marshall Harris, 93.3 WMMR's CaseyBoy of Preston & Steve, and CBS 3's Doug Kammerer and Don Bell.

Coach Fran O'Hanlon of St. Tommy More, nova, Msgr. Bonner,
and Lafayette fame and his lovely daughter Gigi at the Marathon.

President Obama gets shooting tips from Meghan Gardler.
Meghan, a Cardinal O'Hara alumna and former Billy Lake League player, is a member of
the University of Connecticut basketball team, 2009 National Champions.(44 Note: Got to love the smirking Secret Service agents in the back ;-)

By Mike Jensen

Don’t look through newspaper archives to find out about Billy Lake and basketball. It wasn’t that kind of love affair. This should help you understand: In the summer, when the rest of his family would head for the Jersey Shore, Billy wouldn’t get in the car. His plans always involved a playground and a ball.“Aronimink courts, that’s where my brother lived,’’ said his younger brother, Kevin Lake.

Billy Lake’s game was built for that playground just outside Philadelphia. He was 6-foot-2, but everybody who knew him said the same thing: He could glide in the air. And he'd throw in extras. A spin dribble was always better than a basic dribble.“If you’re going to play basketball,’’ he’d say, “you have to throw a little flair into it.’’

Even after Billy got married and had kids and went into sales and worked his way up to vice president of a small printing company, basketball was part of the package.“He played at least five days a week, even if it was just going to the schoolyard in back of us just to shoot ’em up,’’ said his wife, Patti. “He definitely loved it.’’More than 15 years after his death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) – this man has been memorialized through the game he loved. In 1992, the year Billy Lake died, a girls’ summer basketball league was formed in Drexel Hill, Pa. The Billy Lake League is still going strong, with high school and middle school divisions. And every summer, the two-day Billy Lake ALS Basketball Marathon is held to raise funds for ALS research and to provide a scholarship at his old high school. Over $300,000 has been raised from the marathon and the auction and other offshoots.All over the country, time and memories are invested in these kinds of events, from 5-kilometer fun runs to golf tournaments, with all sorts of charities benefitting.

“They say most fundraisers like this last for about five years,’’ Patti said. “This was our 16th. The league and the marathon keep his memory alive, and I think it is awesome that a league is named after him. But what is really important to me is that we are actively trying to beat the disease that ended his life. I don’t think we would have worked this hard this long if ALS were not so cruel.“By the end, this healthy, happy, handsome and smiling man was reduced to a shell. He couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, couldn’t eat or drink – he had a feeding tube – and finally couldn’t breathe. The only thing he could move were his eyes. He blinked to communicate. We would ask him questions, and he would blink once for yes, twice for no. It was unbearably sad to watch.’’It figures that the first signs of trouble for Billy showed up on the court.“I can’t figure this out,’’ he told his younger brother. “I’ve been out shooting. I don’t have any spring in my left leg.’’He also was having weird tingling sensations in his left hand.

“He thought he hurt his finger playing basketball,’’ Patti said.Then he thought maybe it was Lyme Disease. It took nine months for the real diagnosis. When Billy died 19 months later, he was 42 years old, leaving a wife and four young children.Only those who really knew him understood how he should be memorialized. Billy didn’t play high school ball. A Catholic School coach who was only interested in strict fundamentals cut him loose, not caring that he could keep up with good college players on the playground. So he would have loved the league that sprang up in his name. There are no practices, and zone defenses are illegal. It’s a player’s league, not a coach’s league. And these days they hold the Billy Lake ALS Basketball Marathon in that same high school gym he got cut in. Boys and girls, all ages, in a new full-court game every hour.The same players tend to participate every year. This summer, a 71-year-old man was guarding the basket against a team of mostly 50-somethings. Most of them had played with Billy.

“You go inside, he’ll just club you,’’ Kevin Lake said of the oldest player, Jack Crunkleton, who has been playing in the same weekly pickup game for five decades.
Crunkleton quickly showed off an active forearm. On the same possession, there was another stoppage after a little incidental contact between the older man’s arm and another player’s head.“To be playing at his age is amazing enough,’’ Kevin Lake said.

“I think the marathon is kind of neat for my kids’ sake,’’ Patti said of her four children. “They didn’t have their dad very long, but at least his name was out there. They kind of thought that he had to be somebody to name something after him.’’

Four generations of the family turn out. It’s fun, Patti said, to see her own teenage sons out there playing.“To see how they are like him,’’ she said. “He was quick, and he could really jump.’’His name has gotten around. A homeless man sleeping on a street in Philadelphia was once spotting wearing a Billy Lake Marathon T-shirt.League director Mary Beth McNichol pointed out that if you hear his name now, it probably is in a sentence like, “You going to Billy Lake tonight? … Most high school coaches encourage their girls to play in the league.’’

His own daughter, now in college, played in the league. His brother-in-law, Kevin Cain, was one of the founders and came up with the idea of naming the league for Billy. Kevin Cain died of cancer in 2005. His wife, Rose, sells soft pretzels and bottled water at every game. Quite a few relatives are coaches and referees, or work the scorer’s table. A niece born the year after Billy died now plays in the league.

Billy’s wife coaches a team named She’s competitive. Last summer, she accused a rival coach, Billy’s younger brother, of using a zone defense. (He wasn't, although Pattti’s team won the game).Her name is now Patti Lake-Quinn, after she remarried three years ago. Billy’s relatives all approved and were happy for her. They liked her husband, and how could they not? Dan Quinn had been coaching in the Billy Lake League from the start.

Mike Jensen is a sportswriter for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

For information about the Billy Lake League, go to

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