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Touched by tragedy, making a difference

by Michael Sharp || AHL On The Beat Archive

Binghamton Senators forward Cody Bass was walking off the ice one November morning, when he caught the attention of a team official just outside the home dressing room at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.

“Hey, can you wait there one second?” Bass asked the team’s director of media relations, Kate Krenzer.

Just days before, Daron Richardson – the 14-year-old daughter of Ottawa Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson – had died from injuries sustained in a suicide attempt. Bass had known her well, having lived with the family for several months during his rookie season.

Now, as he reappeared from the dressing room, he was anxious to do something in her honor.

“He said, ‘Kate, if you had known Daron, I mean, she was a beautiful girl,’” Krenzer recalled recently. “And you could see as he was saying that to me, he was getting a little emotional. His eyes were getting a little teary.”

In the days and weeks since, with the help of a team and the support of a community, Bass has indeed found ways to honor Daron, while also working to sharpen the spotlight on teen suicide.

A fundraising event earlier this month generated more than $4,600. There are plans for an outdoor skate with the public in February. And Bass has been developing a special fund called WINGS.

It stands for When I Need Guidance and Support.

“My first year, when I got called up to Ottawa, I needed a place to live, and Luke Richardson was nice and kind enough to let me come live with him and his family for the last couple months of the season,” said Bass, now 23 and in his fourth professional season.

“I come from a family where I have four sisters, and Luke has two daughters, Daron and Morgan. And I just kind of gained a little relationship with those girls and his family. And with the incident that happened a few weeks ago – Daron, with her and her passing – a lot of people took it really hard. If you knew Luke, (his wife) Steph, and the girls … you’d understand how great of a family they were, and how hard Luke, and Steph, and Morgan would have taken that.

“I think (another) thing is, people don’t really realize how hard it is to be a teenager these days … and we just want to raise awareness, so people really understand what some teenagers are going through.”

Those efforts started with the fundraiser over back-to-back home games in mid-December. Bass helped organize a silent auction, and the team’s wives and girlfriends sold candy canes, complete with player-signed gift tags.

At $2 a candy cane, the women raised more than $1,200 for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health. “We sold all the ones that didn’t break, and even some broken ones as well,” said Melissa Brodeur, wife of Senators goalie Mike Brodeur, whose voice later cracked with emotion as she talked about the scene, the circumstances, the give-and-take with fans who shared their own stories of children lost too soon.

“I was just extremely touched,” she said. “It’s really nice that, us being in Binghamton, we can be able to support our home team and our parent club as well. It’s just really nice to see everybody get involved, and for everybody to be so passionate about it. … It was just awesome, to be honest with you, to see everybody work together as a team.”

And that spirit shined through in the silent auction as well.

Red Barn Computers in Binghamton donated a mini computer. There was a team-signed Ottawa Senators jersey and a yearlong membership to CNY Mixed Martial Arts. Likewise, a gift basket from Starbucks and an autographed Bass jersey. The city’s Double-A baseball team contributed, as did Johnson City firefighter Mike McCann and so many others.

“How the community has embraced Cody and embraced his cause has been amazing to all of us involved,” Krenzer said. “As the wives were selling their candy canes, they were explaining what the money was going towards, and there were so many people that just gave them outright donations and said, ‘Don’t worry about the candy canes. Just, here, take my money,’ essentially.

“And when folks found out that Cody was doing the auction … there were individuals in the community that stepped up and said, ‘Hey, I have this jersey,’ or ‘Hey, I have this contact.’”

When all was said and done, Bass and the B-Sens had raised an additional $3,400-plus, which was split between the Royal Ottawa Foundation and the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier.

“It’s amazing, especially around this time of year, around Christmastime,” said Bass, who also credited the help of the logo-design and printing company Hackerthreads, as well as team officials like Krenzer and Christa Reese, plus Jennifer O’Brien, founder and coordinator of the Magic Paintbrush Project in nearby Johnson City.

“It’s a hard time, right?” he added. “It’s a hard time financially and mentally. And for people to really step up and donate stuff like that, (for) businesses around Binghamton to step up and really show their support was amazing. And I can’t thank people enough for really helping out, and understanding where I was coming from, and understanding where I’m trying to go with this as well.”

Looking ahead, the hope is to continue raising funds and awareness with an outdoor skate for children, fans and players sometime in February.

“Who doesn’t love to skate on an outdoor rink with kids?” Bass said.

Or, as Melissa Brodeur put it: “I’m so excited about that one. … Hopefully the weather can participate and stay cold enough that we can keep a lake frozen or a pond frozen.”

After Daron’s death in November, Bass and his B-Sens teammate Jason Bailey made the four-hour drive north to Ottawa to attend a celebration of her life – two of the approximately 5,600 people to turn out for the event at Scotiabank Place.

“It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever had to sit through in my entire life,” said Bass, who remembered Daron – like her sister Morgan – as hard-working in school and heavily involved in sports, another caring member of a “great, great, great” family that has given so much back to the Ottawa community.

Now, as he works in her honor, Bass was asked if there was anything he hoped teenagers would take as they learned about WINGS, or his silent auction efforts, or the outdoor skate.

“The message I’m trying to get across to teens is just that you’re never alone,” he said. “And if you ever feel alone, there’s always somebody there to listen and there’s always help out there, you’ve just got to find it.”