After 28 years as a baseball coach — the last 18 leading the University of Dayton’s team — Tony Vittorio’s taken on a new position with Friends of Jaclyn (FOJ), a nonprofit foundation serving children with pediatric cancers.
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The 51-year-old Kettering resident feels so passionately about both “careers” that he says, “I feel like I’ve never worked a day in my life.”
Eight years into his role as head baseball coach for UD, Vittorio saw an HBO documentary on the Jaclyn Murphy story. Jaclyn, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at age 9, loved lacrosse; a nurse knew the Northwestern lacrosse coach, and arranged computer facetime and texting between her, the team and Jaclyn, who became an honorary team member.
Spurred by the support and hope this experience gave to Jaclyn, her parents started the FOJ foundation to bring together other childhood cancer patients with sports teams, using the motto ‘Live in the moment, play in the moment.’ Today, Jaclyn is 24 and the junior varsity lacrosse coach for her old high school team.
“That documentary brought me to tears,” Vittorio, the father of two, recalls. “Although Jaclyn’s been free of cancer for years, she lives from MRI to MRI. The next day, I had a recruiting tour and searched out Jaclyn’s father, Denis, in Hopewell Junction, New York. During our conversation, I asked if we had anyone in the Dayton area our baseball team could adopt.”
Two years later Vittorio got a call from FOJ and was “assigned” a boy, Cameron Neal. “Our team adopted him with the goal to enhance his life for the time he had left.
“Our starting catcher, Kuris Duggan, had just gone through surgery on his wrist and was having a difficult time. He started hanging out with Cameron during practice and they became the best of buddies.”
Duggan and Vittorio spent time off the field at Cameron’s, playing video games and taking him on various outings. With field manager Chuck Shelley, they built him a ramp, and, on his last Christmas in 2014, the team held a party for him and his family at its hitting facility, handling all the logistics, food and gifts.
“We had him for four years,” said Vittorio, who gave 14-year-old Cameron’s eulogy with Duggan in 2015. “We all realized that while we were enhancing his life, he was enhancing the lives of 35 baseball players.”
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When Vittorio decided his career as baseball coach was winding down, “I thought of FOJ and knew it was something I wanted to do with my life and it could be a win-win situation.”
Murphy, who had become a friend, created a position for him as development director. “They’d have several fundraisers a year but needed to take it to the national level,” said Vittorio. “My responsibility is to raise funds for the kids and their families, to help with medical bills and helping siblings go to college. Cameron had three siblings, and the family needed help with college after the medical bills.”
Vittorio also serves as a representative of FOJ, assisting with ‘adoptions’ and funerals, communication with families, helping with galas and more.
“They just called me about a child in Tallahassee — I know all the baseball coaches in the country and can give them names and hook them up with teams.
“I’ve cherished every moment of coaching,” he says, “and people say it’s hard to explore other avenues, but the timing’s perfect. I started August 15, and my heart and soul are with this organization.”
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