For the last three years, the story of Steven Eric “Ebo” Eberling has stolen the hearts of the Mt. Laurel community.
At the age of 15, Eberling was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma. He had to undergo multiple surgeries and eventually had to travel to Germany for treatments. Through it all, the former hockey player continued to coach youth ice hockey and served as an inspiration for many as he continued to live his life to the fullest.
Eberling passed away on Dec. 25, 2013, at the age of 17. However, his family and others close to him have found a couple ways to preserve his memory.
On Friday, Jan. 23, Team Comcast, the hockey organization Eberling played and coached for, retired his №24 at the Flyers Skate Zone in Pennsauken.
Pat Ferrill, president of Team Comcast Youth Hockey, coached Eberling prior to his diagnosis. After Eberling was diagnosed and told he wouldn’t be able to play hockey again, Ferrill said his willingness to stay involved with Team Comcast never wavered.
“After he was diagnosed with the cancer and he was told that he couldn’t play anymore, he said ‘great, I’m going to coach then,’” Ferrill said. “He was one of the most mature young men I ever met.”
Eberling’s determination and positive attitude serves as the basis of the Ebo Strong Foundation, a non-profit organization created in his honor.
Ebo’s mother Gini said the family began to talk about forming a nonprofit shortly after Ebo passed away.
“It took a while to come up with it,” Gini said. “A piece of my heart said we had to support pediatric cancer. Another part of me wanted to support youth athletics.”
Ultimately, Gini said they were able to find a way to support both. The foundation will have fundraisers throughout the upcoming year, with all proceeds going to help families who have someone with pediatric cancer, youth sports organizations and the communites of Mt. Laurel and Lenape High School.
The foundation has become a very important part of Gini’s life. Gini said the local community gave so much to her family in the past few years, it’s time they return the favor.
“The people of our community, their hearts are as big as big can be, and we can’t thank them enough,” she said. “We want to give back to the people that gave back to us.”
The foundation has already gotten to work on a few projects. During the holiday season, 50 Christmas trees were donated to families who have a child battling pediatric cancer.
Gini said even a small gesture is a big deal to these families. She recalls how difficult finances were when Ebo had to travel to Germany for treatments. She said anything to brighten up these families’ lives is worth doing.
“To make the kids going through it, making their day a little better is important to us,” she said.
The foundation also plans to give back to sports teams such as Team Comcast, as well as local sports organizations such as the Mt. Laurel Baseball Association. Gini said they’d be open to helping any sports organization that comes to them in the future.
Team Comcast is one of the organizations the foundation will support. Money will be donated to Team Comcast to help talented hockey players pay to play in the higher divisions with need-based financial aid.
“Youth hockey is a pretty expensive sport,” Ferrill said. “There will be occasions that players can play at the highest level and their families cannot afford it.”
Ferrill thought it was very important to get his organization involved with the Ebo Strong Foundation. When Gini offered him a chance to join the foundation’s board, Ferrill didn’t hesitate.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to turn what was a negative, tragic situation into a positive and create a positive legacy for Ebo,” Ferrill said.
Giving back to Lenape is also a big deal for the Eberlings. Gini credits the school community for giving the family an immense amount of support and gave Lenape Principal Tony Cattani a spot on the foundation’s board.
Cattani said he was honored when Gini approached him to join the foundation’s board. He said Ebo was one the most inspirational people he’s ever met. Ebo’s picture hangs on Cattani’s wall in his office.
“I was flattered, I was honored and I was motivated to help them,” Cattani said. “I felt like it’s the least I can do. I love Ebo.”
The foundation is giving back to Lenape High School through the creation of an Ebo Scholarship to be given to a graduating Lenape senior each year. Students applying for the scholarship will be asked to give back to an organization committed to fighting against pediatric cancer.
“Part of receiving the Ebo scholarship is doing community service hours at any pediatric cancer organization they want,” Gini said.
Cattani said the scholarship is going to very prestigious. For starters, Ebo’s №24 can be found everywhere from the scholarship amount ($2,400), to the GPA required to apply for the scholarship (3.24) to the due date to apply (April 24).
The group of people choosing the scholarship is a group who may know Ebo better than anyone else.
“One of the coolest parts is that his seven best friends that spoke at his services and were with him through everything, they’re coming back from their colleges to select the recipient,” Cattani said.
Cattani said having Ebo’s friends pick the winner guarantees the recipient will reflect the positive characteristics Ebo displayed during his life.
The foundation is ready to make a large impact on the Mt. Laurel community this year. The foundation is now collecting donations on its website,www.ebostrong.org, as well as at its fundraising events.
The foundation’s largest fundraiser will be a gala at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees on April 24. The gala will include food and drinks for the adults and skating tickets for the kids. More information on the gala will be available in the coming months.
The retirement ceremony and foundation kickoff was a bittersweet evening for Gini. However, she said watching her son’s number retirement and seeing the donations coming in for the Ebo Strong Foundation brought a sense of happiness over her.
“I was completely happy,” she said. “Because I knew that my son would be so proud that this would be happening for him in his honor.”