It all started on the morning of May 15, 2006. Richard Stefanacci was diagnosed with a form of pediatric cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. What followed the diagnosis was the Go4theGoal Foundation.
Go4TheGoal, which started as a small organization in New Jersey and has now become a nationally recognized organization, was founded by Richard and Beth Stefanacci in 2006. The Stefanaccis discovered very quickly after their son’s diagnosis that many parents did not have the financial stability needed to worry about treatment for pediatric cancer on top of their daily lives. With the creation of the foundation, their goal was to help make sure parents didn’t have to worry about their child getting the necessary treatment he or she needed, but rather when their child was going to get better because of the foundation’s help.
With the month of September being national pediatric cancer awareness month, Go4theGoal kicked off its campaign for raising pediatric cancer awareness with the gold shoelace program for athletes across the country. This is the second season in which teams will be wearing the gold laces, according to Randy Pickus, Go4theGoal public relations director.
“One of our team members decided she wanted her daughter’s soccer team to somehow raise awareness for pediatric cancer,” Pickus said. “She started her daughter and her soccer team wearing bright yellow shoelaces and it basically just took off from there.”
Go4theGoal then set their sites on collegiate programs, specifically soccer teams. They sent representatives to the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics conference, which is the national conference for athletic directors across the United States. More than 30 programs nationally participate in the gold laces campaign, according to Erica Bickhart, the director of school initiatives for Go4theGoal. The Elon University women’s soccer team is one of them.
“It’s a great cause and it’s something as simple as wearing gold laces,” said Elon head coach Chris Neal.
Echoing her coach’s excitement about participating in the program was junior forward Simi Dhaliwal, who netted her third goal of the season and the game winner in a 1-0 defeat of Francis Marion University in the Go4theGoal game on Sept. 16.
“We played for them, and for pediatric cancer. It’s a great cause,” Dhaliwal said. “It’s another way for our team to give back to the community.”
According to Neal, over the course of the next couple of weeks the team will be “adopting” a young child from the area who suffers from a form of pediatric cancer. The child will be coming to the team’s games over the course of the season and the team will participate in events around town in support of him or her. The team also raises money through fan donations at games, with all funds staying in state to help patients in North Carolina.
“Wilmington had it, too, and we saw it last weekend when we were down there,” Dhaliwal said. “We thought it’d be really cool.”
Soccer is not the only sport Go4theGoal has attracted. With other collegiate programs throughout the country, the organization sponsors races across the United States as well as football and basketball programs at both the high school and college levels.
“You see pink all over the place,” Bickhart said. “In the NFL, everywhere, and you think, ‘OK, pink is breast cancer.’ I want to get gold to have the same recognition. So we’re starting with high school and college teams and hoping that getting these teams to wear the laces creates any sort of buzz and hopefully we’ll continue to grow and raise awareness.”
Bickhart said in the future, hopefully Go4theGoal will expand its reach into other sports, but for now, soccer is the main choice.
“We picked soccer because that was a main fall sport that we felt would be easier to get into because football can be a little tricky,” Bickhart said. “Last year we really only did soccer. This year, we’re expanding to football, field hockey, baseball and we have some basketball games already scheduled. I’m hoping that we can get it going year-round and make it an annual thing where teams will have their Go4theGoal game and make it a habit year in and year out.”