by Kate Krenzer || AHL On The Beat Archive
The Binghamton Senators have always played an active role when it comes to giving back to their community, but this season giving back has taken on a whole new meaning.
In September, mere weeks before the 2011-12 American Hockey League season was set to begin, the Southern Tier region experienced historic flooding after heavy rain from the remnants of Hurricanes Irene and Lee caused the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers to rise to record levels.
Suddenly, life in the city the B-Sens call home for seven months of the year (or more) was turned upside down.
Homes and business were destroyed. People and animals were displaced. Many lost everything and even now, three months later, are still trying to put their lives back together.
This season, there are more families in need than there have ever been before.
At the time of the floods, most of the Binghamton Senators were in Ottawa for training camp. Forward Jim O’Brien, who first laced up his skates in Binghamton at the conclusion of his junior career in 2009, knew how important the team’s involvement in the community would be this season.
“For those of us that have played here and know Binghamton, it was hard to watch what was happening,” explained O’Brien. “You can’t help but feel helpless in that situation.
“We could see how much the flood affected everyone here and knew coming into this season that we would do everything we could to help out.”
So far those efforts have included the annual Binghamton Senators Charity Golf Classic in support of Wendy’s Walk for Kids, which benefitted four local charities that had been feeling the effects of the floods; the annual Broome County Toys for Tots dinner which yielded five full barrels of toys and hundreds of dollars in donations for children in need; and a teddy bear toss that saw 800 bears fall to the ice also benefitting children in need this holiday season.
“It’s impressive to see people rally around not just us as players, but around the community as a whole,” said goaltender Mike McKenna, reflecting on what the B-Sens have accomplished so far.
McKenna has taken up responsibility for rallying his teammates around a new initiative this season dubbed Paws for Cause. It is a year-long campaign to raise funds and awareness for the Broome County Humane Society and Project P.A.W.
Both shelters sustained substantial damage in the September floods, and both have taken in a number of animals in the wake of the devastation as many dogs and cats were abandoned after their owners were left unable to care for or shelter them.
“People often forget that animals are affected by adversity too,” said McKenna. “We’ve done our best to help people and continue to do so. We’ve had plenty of people oriented initiatives, but a lot of the guys, myself included, really have a soft spot for pets too.”
Binghamton Senators staff members are also helping with the local flood relief efforts.
“At the time the area was flooding I was in Canada looking at the videos and pictures that were posted on Facebook,” B-Sens equipment manager Tom Severance said. “There were some of people being rescued by helicopters from their homes. When you are watching something like that play out from a distance, you can’t believe its happening. I felt like I should be there helping out or doing something since I grew up in and have lived in Binghamton.”
Severance reached out to Reebok and arranged to have a set of jerseys donated to the team. The B-Sens are wearing the jerseys at their home games on Dec. 16 versus the Adirondack Phantoms and Dec. 17 versus the Worcester Sharks, and the jerseys will then be auctioned off via eBay with 100 percent of the proceeds benefitting the American Red Cross Southern Tier Chapter to assist with local flood relief efforts.
While the Binghamton Senators have been successful in providing additional support for the Southern Tier at a time of such great need, their involvement in the community and helping those affected by the floods has gone beyond their obligations coordinated by the team.
For many seasons now, B-Sens players past and present have contributed to a fund that became known as the Hard Luck Fund. Initially it was started by the players for the players to help handle unexpected incidentals. Overtime the fund grew so much that it was used to supplement community efforts.
The Hard Luck Fund has helped purchase tickets for the Binghamton Senators’ 7th Man program. It helped former Binghamton Senator Cody Bass launch his WINGS foundation. It also provided donations to the B-Sens’ Face-Off Against Cancer and the Broome Sports Foundation’s Tommy Mitchell Memorial Scholarship.
In September, after seeing the devastation in the region in the news, current and former Binghamton Senators — including current blueliner Eric Gryba and former forward Bass — arranged for 27 families from the hardest hit areas to receive a donation from the Hard Luck Fund.
Each family received $100 in gift certificates from local restaurants, grocery and home improvement stores. The certificates were all accompanied with the following note:
We heard you as you cheered for us on and off the ice.
Please accept this with our thoughts and prayers.
Old & returning Binghamton Senators players… We hope to see you soon!
Thanks for being on our team.