September 14, 2013

Former hockey player helps kickball tournament raise money for Ronald McDonald Houses

Tom Roulston used to chase sliding pucks for a living.

Tom Roulston used to chase sliding pucks for a living.

The former professional hockey player spent Saturday chasing a ball sliding across the ground to raise money for a good cause.

Roulston, the former Wichita Thunder great who played with the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League, led his UBS financial services office into battle Saturday at the first “Kickin’ It for the Kids” kickball tournament at Linwood Park. The tournament raised money for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Wichita.

The tournament – essentially baseball with a large ball pitched by rolling and hit by a kick – raised money, and awareness, for the charity, which operates homes near Wesley Medical Center and Via Christi Hospital St. Francis to house the parents of children who need long-term hospital care in Wichita.

“This could be ugly,” said Roulston, as his “Up Your Assets” team prepared a lunch cookout around him. “Let’s put it this way: We’re here for the party and to raise money for a great charity.”

The tournament sold its 12 spots quickly, said Susan Smythe, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities.

“Isn’t that cool?” Smythe asked. “You never know when you start a new event. We put it out there and it sold right out.”

“We think this is a good way to get young people involved to raise money,” said Jason Douglass, a board member of the Red Shoe Society. “It’s a new demographic.

“We’re very happy with what’s gone on. Everybody’s happy, having a good time.”

The reason was obvious among the players: Good times, good friends, good food and a good cause.

“The competitive juices come out when you hit the field,” said Kevin Jenks, who runs the National Baseball Congress World Series and captained the “Too Legit to Kick” squad.

“But we’re basically here to kick back, have some fun and help some people who need it.”

“It’s a wonderful cause,” said Sarah Dodds, a customer service associate in Roulston’s office who was getting ready to play. “Just to hear the patter of little feet in those houses is wonderful. They’re there to support families that are having a rough time.”

Smythe said the two houses offer 10 bedrooms, community rooms and kitchens to families in Wichita for lengthy stays as their children need treatment.

“We just don’t want them to worry about a place to stay,” she said. “I don’t even want to think about them sleeping in a car in the parking lot, or sleeping in the waiting room. They need to be at their best to help support their sick child.”

Families from at least 30 miles outside Wichita, who have a referral from a local hospital or doctor, can stay at a Ronald McDonald House as long as they need, Smythe said.

“We rely on donations to help support the houses, donations of food, things we need and money to pay the expenses,” she said. “But we have to pay the electric bills, and two houses are expensive.”

The money raised Saturday is important, Smythe said. But it’s just part of the kickball tournament’s impact.

“I don’t know how we’ll end up, but the important thing is the whole picture together,” she said. “The awareness we gain, the fun and enjoyment of young people participating for the cause. It’s a lot more than just money, and it’s very meaningful what we’ve accomplished today.”

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