Challenge accepted: Lower Moreland High School field hockey team takes on ice bucket challenge for dad with ALS

Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer

After being diagnosed with ALS last April, Dennis Casey can no longer speak clearly, but that doesn’t mean he has nothing to say.

His daughters, Sam and Alex Casey, have taken up his voice by spreading their own message about what it means to know someone who has been diagnosed with ALS.

Both are students at Lower Moreland High School and play for the school’s field hockey team. Their coach, Danielle Kline, who also teaches at LMHS, asked the girls if the team could partake in the Ice Bucket Challenge as a show of support for the Casey family.

“She approached Alex and I and asked if we were OK with our team doing it. Of course we said yes,” Sam said.

The challenge is ubiquitous on social media. Facebook timelines, Twitter and Instagram feeds are all occupied by videos of people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads and challenging three friends to do the same. If the challenge is not accepted, those who declined are asked to donate $100 to ALS research.

Both Sam, 17, and Alex, 14, had already accepted and completed the challenge, but the opportunity to do it with their team was one they could not pass up.

“It was nice to have a big support system and know that my whole team would be behind me,” Sam said.

“He seemed excited that we were doing this,” Alex said of her dad.

The team lined up in front of their buckets. The Lion, their mascot, danced behind them, friends and family looked on and one-by-one they took the plunge. They even challenged the LMHS girls soccer team to do the same.

Despite some criticism of the challenge as a means of avoiding donation, it’s not for nothing, Randi Casey, Dennis’ wife and Sam and Alex’s mother, said. Every video, picture, like, comment and share raises awareness, if not donations.

“I know a lot of people are bashing it,” Randi said. “I think it’s the best thing that ever happened.” She referenced government funding of ALS research reaching $40 million, while funding for cancer totals around $5 billion. She wasn’t criticizing anything, she stressed, just outlining the need for more research.

“ALS is really an unknown disease. They don’t know how it starts. There’s no treatment so there’s no cure,” she said. “All this awareness and all the money they’re raising can only do good stuff.”

So far, the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised millions of dollars for ALS research, and the peripheral awareness helps the public understand what families like the Caseys are dealing with.

“None of my friends really knew what ALS was before this, and now so many people actually know what it is,” Sam said.

Sam described her father as “super fun and athletic” before his diagnosis, referencing his love of skiing and snowboarding.

“He’s the reason we play sports. He would always play with us,” she said. “It’s a big transition because it’s physically disabling him.”

Just during this challenge, the team raised $325 for an ALS walk the Caseys are participating in on Oct. 19 at Valley Forge Military Academy under the name Dennis’ Menaces.

It’s in support of the ALS Hope Foundation, started by Dr. Terry Heiman-Patterson of the neurology department at Drexel University, where Dennis goes for appointments.

The Caseys have four years invested in this team, with two more to go. Sam is a senior and Alex is sophomore. “They’re a great group of kids and coaches,” Randi said.

“It’s all we do,” Dennis managed to convey using tonal cues.

He usually communicates with his daughters using text messages or an app that reads written text aloud.

“We’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out what he’s saying, and he tries to spell with sign language, but he can’t spell,” Alex joked.

And, maybe, other people are beginning to understand him.

For more information or to donate to the ALS Hope Foundation, visit www.alshopefoundation.org.