When the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg hosts a charity basketball game tonight that pits its faculty and staff against the students, no matter which side scores more points, the clear winner will be 9-year-old Kaeleigh Beregi.
The third-grader at Amos K. Hutchison Elementary School in Greensburg has been fighting cancer since age 2.
Tonight's game will raise funds for Jamie's Dream Team, a nonprofit in White Oak that held a princess ball for Kaeleigh on March 10 at Ferrante's Lakeview in Hempfield, complete with a three-tier castle cake, a princess gown, ballerinas, clowns, a horse-drawn carriage and a throne.
The ball, originally scheduled for April, was moved to March after Kaeleigh, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at age 2, had a relapse in May 2011. Kaeleigh was able to attend school briefly this school year but has mostly received homebound instruction, said her mother, Laura Beregi.
During halftime at tonight's game, the Pitt-Greensburg Student Government Association will continue Kaeleigh's princess celebration with a ceremony and a princess dress for her.
"We'll have a cookie cake, a 'Prince Charming' for her arm, and a red carpet for her and her court," said Heather Metro, a senior at Pitt-Greensburg and a student government association representative. Ms. Metro will participate in the event, and other Pitt students are planning to dress for the occasion.
"A lot of the students have taken a personal approach to make sure it's a wonderful experience for [Kaeleigh] and her family as well," said Al Thiel, director of student activities at Pitt-Greensburg.
The annual game is sponsored by the campus student government association and kicks off "Into the Streets," a three-day service event beginning today in which students from the university volunteer with local agencies to give back to the community.
Scott Szypulski, a junior from Irwin and president of the student government association, said in the past, the charity game has raised about $2,000 and the student government association typically matches the amount.
Mr. Szypulski said this is the second year the group will work with Jamie's Dream Team, which assists individuals who are disabled, terminally ill, severely injured or suffering from a serious medical condition. Since it began in 2005, Jamie's Dream Team has fulfilled more than 500 dreams, said its founder, Jamie Holmes, who was born with Vater syndrome, a disorder that can cause defects in the vertebrae, lower intestines, heart, trachea, esophagus, limbs and kidneys.
This year, the student government association wanted to donate to a specific dream, and Ms. Holmes suggested Kaeleigh's princess ball.
"We found out that Kaeleigh is from Greensburg as well and we liked that," Mr. Szypulski said.
For tonight's game, Mr. Thiel is siding with the faculty.
"I think the students will put up a good fight. It's tough for them because a number of the coaching staff play," he said. One of the players will be Pitt-Greensburg President Sharon P. Smith.
Mr. Szypulski said he is hopeful the students will win this year, something he doesn't believe they have ever done in the five-year history of the match.
"We have one of the graduate students coaching us. I've heard the staff has lost a few key players and we are hoping to capitalize on that," Mr. Szypulski said.
The game begins at 7 p.m. in Chambers Gymnasium on the Pitt-Greensburg campus, 150 Finoli Drive. Admission is $3 for the public. Pitt-Greensburg students get in for free. Raffles will be held for baskets from local businesses, tickets for Sunday's Penguins vs. Flyers game, tickets to a Pirates game, signed Steeler merchandise and two Country Mega tickets.
For information about Jamie's Dream Team: jamiesdreamteam.myfastsite.net.neigh_east - neigh_westmoreland
Jill Thurston, freelance writer: email@example.com.