Roller hockey players from around the area will be coming together to get Rocco Strong at the Rockaway Hockey Rink on Sunday, November 22. Since his diagnosis in May, 11-year-old Rocco Pisani of Broad Channel has been an inspiration in his fight against leukemia. Inspired by his determination to stay Rocco Strong, the Rockaway Hockey League is gearing up to fight cancer with him.
When Bryan Elfant and Bobby Keane ran a successful Back the Blue hockey tournament last month to raise funds for suicide prevention, Johnny Wagner had an idea. He thought of his friend Rob Pisani, whose young son was diagnosed with leukemia this year. “He was diagnosed at the height of Covid, so we couldn’t really do anything for Rocco back then, so I thought let’s put a hockey tournament together to raise money for Rocco and put a smile on his face,” Wagner said. Wagner passed the idea by Rob Pisani, who was on board. As an avid sports fan, coming together to play a sport for Rocco was fitting. The timing of the tournament would also coincide with Rocco starting a new journey in his cancer battle. Just ahead of Sunday’s tournament, Rocco has started a treatment called delayed intensification, a multi-week phase of chemotherapy designed to eliminate remaining leukemia cells.
Sunday’s tournament will be a reminder to Rocco that the community has his back. “We want to do this, so he knows Broad Channel is behind him, Rockaway is behind him, and even hockey players from Brooklyn are behind him,” Wagner said.
Since launching the idea for the hockey tournament, Wagner says the outpouring of support has been overwhelming. As we go to press, there are eight teams scheduled to play in Sunday’s tournament and four more on a waiting list. A 50/50 that Wagner set up ahead of the event sold out within just eight hours. T-shirts for the event featuring the #RoccoStrong hashtag and Rocco’s jersey number, 22, which will be sold during the tournament, are already in high demand.
Wagner says he’s blown away by the willingness of local community members to come together for the cause. “It’s incredible. I knew growing up in Broad Channel and Rockaway that people there are always willing to help, but the amount of support and people reaching out has been incredible. Everyone is reaching out to lend a helping hand because they know how important it is as a community to stand together. It’s really remarkable,” Wagner said.
Proceeds from the tournament will go to the Pisani family and Wagner hopes the funding helps to bring a smile to the face of the little boy who has been not only strong, but selfless in his cancer battle. “Rocco plays baseball and basketball and wants to be a fitness trainer. He’s very athletic and is always outside playing sports. So in May, a fundraiser was started for Rocco because he wanted to build a gym in his backyard because he can’t leave his house because of Covid. After that, he had some leftover money and Rocco dedicated $1,000 of it to buy pillowcases for the other kids in the hospital so they would each have their own pillowcases,” Wagner said. He hopes funding from the tournament will help the family cover any medical bills they have or allow Rocco to buy something for himself. “I want Rocco to feel like he can buy something that makes him happy, whether that’s something that has to do with sports or doing stuff outside, just anything to make him happy," Wagner said.
Sunday’s tournament kicks off with the first puck drop at 8:30 a.m. at the hockey rink near the boardwalk on Beach 109th Street. Wagner expects the games to continue for a good bulk of the day and encourages anyone to stop by and cheer on the teams as they stay Rocco Strong. There will be food, including three six-foot heroes donated by Bagel and Barista of Howard Beach, masks available for those who don’t have them to help keep attendees safe, t-shirts for sale, raffles, a contest for the best moustache and extra donations can be made on the day of the event.
“It’s going to be a great day for everyone to come hang out,” Wagner said.
For updates on Rocco’s cancer battle, follow him on Instagram at: fitnessforlife07.
By Katie McFadden
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