‘Who We Play For’ Started Local, Now Going International
By Christopher Bony
What started as a group of high school kids working to keep the memory of their close friend and teammate alive is now a movement for heart health that is growing larger one state at a time.
They have formed Who We Play For, a non-profit organization that has become a paradigm for turning tragedy into triumph.
After the sudden death of Rafe Maccarone in 2007, people close to him started the Play For Rafe Foundation. It has since been renamed Who We Play For to have a broader appeal, centered on the idea that everyone could have someone or something they play for.
The organization now funds scholarships for young high school athletes and holds free heart screening events to bring awareness to people around the world about heart health and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).
Maccarone passed away from HCM after he collapsed during soccer practice at Cocoa Beach Jr. /Sr. High School. The Play for Rafe Foundation then organized an alumni soccer game, which has become an annual event to help raise funds and awareness for HCM.
“We started doing annual events to fundraise in memory of our friend but we always felt like our friend in some way represented teams and communities all around the country,” said Evan Ernst, executive director of Florida’s Who We Play For. “We wanted Rafe and all of us see if it was possible to create a national movement.”
Ernst helped to create a branch of Who We Play For in the form of a club at Florida State, and helped organize fundraisers around Tallahassee.
Who We Play For also has partnered with other foundations supporting heart health in several states around the country. Providing high schools and athletic facilities with automated external defibrillators (AEDs).
“Sudden cardiac arrest happens to be the leading cause of death for student athletes,” said Kieran Easton, a childhood friend of Maccarone’s. “The more we learned about his condition, the more we began to realize how important it is for people to know about this.
A group of members from Who We Play For just returned from Panama where they held one of the first ever “international full service heart screening events.”
“Our fundraising efforts mostly focus on heart screening,” said Megan Myers, fundraising director of Who We Play For. “We want our sponsors and businesses who donate to understand where their donations are going.”
Ernst said it is a simple message his group shares with new faces.
“We figured this program is so flexible, we can teach them how to do it and then let them do it themselves,” Ernst said. “We can inspire, we can empower people to do this, and then we can get out of the way.”