Neither Tommy Kirchhoff nor Bobby Whalen won a playoff game this season. Both led teams that hung around .500 but didn’t win a division title or anything that will require additions to a banner in the gym.
But the pair still pulled off one of the biggest victories high school athletes could ever imagine.
The lifelong best friends, Kirchhoff, a senior quarterback at Trinity, and Whalen, a junior quarterback/defensive back at Cedar Cliff, stunned many, including themselves, by raising $247,000 for Project ALS during the 2017 football season.
That number was nearly five times their initial goal of $50,000.
“From starting with a goal of $50,000 and reaching almost five times that is unreal,” Kirchhoff told The Sentinel over Twitter DM Friday night. “I’m incredibly thankful for everyone who helped us fundraise to hopefully defeat this awful disease for good.”
“Just knowing the community supported us like they did was just something special,” Whalen said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Whalen concocted “We Will W1N 4 ALS” over the summer as a way to help Kirchhoff, who lost his dad, Tom Kirchhoff, a Cedar Cliff grad in the 1980s and a Lafayette Hall of Famer who won a District 3 title and later a Patriot League crown, to the disease three years ago. The idea was simple: For every touchdown the pair produced during the season, people would donate money. If someone donated $5 a touchdown for example, and the pair scored 30 times during the season, that was a $150 donation.
The goal was $50,000. But when that number was eclipsed in just a few short weeks they upped the mark to $100,000. Those lofty expectations at the time are now dwarfed by the final number.
Family, friends, companies and more donated to the cause, either through one-time donations, for every touchdown or through t-shirt and wristband sales. Whalen and Kirchhoff even received a $25,000 donation, complete with giant presentation check, from Cleveland Brothers Equipment Co., a Harrisburg company that Tom Kirchhoff used to work at.
The final breakdown, Tommy Kirchhoff said, worked out to $134,000 in flat donations, $108,000 in pledges for each touchdown and a touch under $5,000 in shirt/wristband sales.
The final dollar amount surprised Whalen and Kirchhoff, as did the overwhelming support from the community and beyond.
“No matter what school they were from they always encouraged us to score and do the best that we could,” Kirchhoff said.
He said that the last big check was presented to the Project ALS board of directors last week.
The friends’ moms were some of the real heroes of the endeavor. They helped organize the campaign for several months. Whalen and Kirchhoff tried to spread the message on social media and at school, selling t-shirts during lunch.
“Our moms were a huge part in organizing everything, and the fundraiser would have been nowhere near as successful if they weren’t involved,” Kirchhoff said.
Their siblings and cousins also helped sell shirts and wristbands at games and teammates shared the news as much as they could. Of course, the Shamrocks and Colts were also responsible for “helping us score,” Kirchhoff said. Whalen ran for 10 TDs and threw for seven, while Kirchhoff tossed 17 and trotted in for another. They totaled 35 touchdowns by season’s end.
Both players wore the No. 14 this season, the same number Tom Kirchhoff wore at Cedar Cliff. That number is also present in the fundraiser’s name.
Whalen also offered a “shout out” to Adam Breneman the former Colt and Penn State tight end who finished up his final collegiate season at Massachusetts and is a possible NFL draft pick in the upcoming 2018 draft.
Breneman is no stranger to Project ALS, having raised more than $200,000 with his own fundraiser, Catch The Cure, in 2012. Breneman helped take We Will W1N 4 ALS outside of Pennsylvania.
“Adam helped by just being the big name to publicize it and lead us in the right direction,” Whalen said. “He also is the one that had the original idea of playing football for ALS. So he definitely played a huge role in just starting this whole thing.”
Breneman said he was proud of the efforts by Kirchhoff and Whalen.
“They’re both great athletes but even better kids, and I know that Tommy’s dad is looking down and is very proud of the work those two have done,” Breneman said in an email Saturday night. “I talked to Tommy last night and just let him know how proud I am of him and Bobby. This area has been so supportive and hopefully the Mid-Penn as a community can continue the fight against ALS for years to come.”
Project ALS was formed in 1998 by sisters Jenifer, Meredith and Valerie Estess when Jenifer, then 35, was diagnosed with the ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The organization raises money to fund research for treatment and a cure. It is a neurological disorder that kill motor neurons in the brain, slowly taking away muscle function including walking, speaking and eventually breathing. Those diagnosed with ALS typically live 2-5 years after they are diagnosed.
Project ALS says on its website it has raised more than $75 million in 17 years, with 80-93 percent being distributed annually to research programs.