Cherry Hill school district volleys for a cause

Educators’ union steps up to help children with genetic disease

Cherry Hill Education Association represents more than 1,000 staff members across all 19 schools in the district.

Each academic year, their thoughts are not only concerned with business plans, lesson plans, classroom arrangements and learning new students’ names, but also on those in the community who are facing particular challenges.

This year, the CHEA has decided to stage its annual charity volleyball tournament in the gym at Cherry Hill East High School to benefit the Ehlers Danlos Society, a group that raises awareness and funds to combat Ehlers Danlos syndromes, a group of connective tissue disorders that can be inherited and are varied both in how they affect the body and in their genetic causes. They are generally characterized by joints that stretch farther than normal, skin that can be stretched farther than normal and tissue fragility.

Steve Redfearn, CHEA president for the last three years and a teacher in the district for 14 years prior, has an intimate connection to the yearly undertaking.

“My wife and I initiated the event back in 2004, and at that time we had six schools. In each successive year, slowly but surely we built up. Four or five years in, we had all our schools participating — that’s all 12 elementary schools, both high schools and all three middle schools,” Redfearn said.

“The first year, we held it at Carusi (Middle School) with a couple bottles of water and soft pretzels, and it’s now grown to raffle baskets, gift baskets, bounce houses, face painting, balloon animals. It’s become a whole community event.”

Aside from being a relatively unknown affliction, Redfearn noted Ehlers Danlos hits squarely at home in the Cherry Hill district, with several students, as well as one teacher’s daughter, suffering from its effects. He noted Ehlers Danlos was actually considered to be the cause to raise money for several years prior, but ultimately decided this year was the time to move forward to render aid for that particular ailment.

Redfearn added this year’s charity tournament marks the first time it will be held in the fall rather than the spring, owing to the capriciousness of weather and a spate of other events in the district or elsewhere that coincide with better temperatures. He hopes to see upward of 500 participants, with competing teams having anywhere from a minimum of six to as many as 15 players, of all possible combinations.

“With the high school and middle schools, sometimes they have more males than females, so we’re trying to have an equal ratio so it’s not six males and three females against an elementary school that’s all female teachers. We’re just trying to make it fair,” Redfearn said about structuring the teams more evenly for better competition.

Due to space constraints, only two games will take place at one time. It is a single-elimination format, where a team loses, it’s out, and the winner advances. Redfearn mentioned he plans to honor the first-, second- and third-place teams, along with a “spirit award” that will be presented to the school that perhaps takes itself not so seriously. One year in the recent past, participants on Clara Barton Elementary School’s team even dressed in superhero costumes. Again, in the spirit of fair play, a different school will win the spirit prize each year.

Whether a team exits early or sticks around long enough to try to win the whole tournament, entertainment will abound to keep younger participants present and focused. The spirit of giving usually strikes parents, teachers and administrators enough that they will often volunteer if their own or their child’s team is eliminated, or if they are not a part of the games themselves. The usual fare of pretzels, hot dogs, pizza, chips and soda will be sold in the cafeteria. In addition, various parent-teacher associations are expected to donate additional food items.

The charity tournament is slated for Friday, Oct. 12, starting at 5:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the door of Cherry Hill East. The cost is $3 for adults and $2 for children.