Six years ago, Palmetto High School students began one of the only annual local charity events run by teens, and made it a Pinecrest tradition.
The Miracle Games, a three-on-three basketball tournament, raised thousands of dollars to benefit the Transplant Foundation, affiliated with the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, and attracted middle and high school players from across South Dade. Last year when three of those students left for college, the event was destined to end. Jonathan Roth, an eighth grader at Palmetto Middle School and a member of the school’s basketball team, wanted to save it.
“It was relevant in my life,” he said, noting that a family member has liver disease and may one day need a transplant. He asked his friends and teammates, Matthew Hellinger and Jayden Hardaway, to help, along with their parents and friends.
On Saturday in late April, the event began a new chapter. The sixth annual Miracle Games were held in Suniland Park and raised more than $2,000 for the foundation. About 150 people attended the games, including 16 teams.
According to the Transplant Foundation, today more than 100,000 people are awaiting transplants. An average of 18 people dies every day because organs are not available for transplant. Another name is added to the national waiting list every 12 minutes. Money raised supports funding, research and services for transplant patients and their families.
Members of the winning team were Ari Alcalay, William Blet and Rey Prieto, students at George Washington Carver Middle School. Second-place winners were Christopher Verdecia, Gabriel Martinez and Jacob Faller.
Several parents and kids also were winners in a raffle for coveted prizes. Two autographed basketballs and two autographed sneakers were donated by NBA great Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, a former player for the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks, and Jayden’s father. Chicago Bulls point guard Carlos Boozer also donated two autographed basketballs. Former Miami Heat star Tim Hardaway was on hand to lend support and encouragement to the players.
Local sponsors including A Nose for Clothes, Tutti Frutti, Sir Pizza, The Cheese Course, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Roaster N Toasters, Chill N and Sub Shack donated prizes. Sponsors Smoothee King and Pinecrest Health & Fitness provided smoothie samples and bottles of water to the crowd. Players and student volunteers received community service hours for participation.
The Miracle Games were founded by former Palmetto High student Jordan Rosen, now a student at Emory. He later was joined by Andrew Salazar, now a student at the University of Pennsylvania; Lee Seifer, a student at the University of Florida; and Tyler Heckaman, who attends Florida State. Roth, Hellinger and Hardaway are looking forward to next year’s Games.
“It was fun,” said Hellinger. “I loved seeing people all come out for the same reason – to help people in need.”
“We want to thank our parents for helping make this event a success,” Jayden Hardaway said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”