Team raises money for coach’s 5-year-old granddaughter suffering from cancer

“It feels pretty good because they really support me a lot, and I feel so proud of them because it feels nice to have them here,” said Alivia.
Published: Nov. 24, 2022 at 5:42 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HARTFORD, Conn. (WFSB) - The yearly showdown between the Hawks and the Wildcats has a new name: The War In The Woods.

Each school sold t-shirts for the big game, with the money going to a charitable cause.

But how did this long-time battle turn into what both sides hope to be a new tradition?

“What spawned it was that there’s a coach on the Woodland team that has a sick grandchild. They actually approached us with doing this and who’s gonna say no, right?” said Amber Burton, President, Seymour Wildcat Kickoff Club.

Woodland assistant Dennis Wanzie is that coach. He has had previous head coaching stops at Wilbur Cross and Bassick.

The football lifer is fighting a battle of his own with leukemia.

After seven years away from the game he loves, he felt that this season was the right time to return.

“I’m feeling real good. I figured I wanted to get back to the game that I love so much. I got up here with Coach Lato, I thought I was just coaching the offensive line, but then we got into every aspect of the game,” said Dennis Wanzie, Woodland Assistant Coach.

It’s paid off for Woodland. The Hawks finished the regular season at 8 and 2 and will host their state tournament opener next Tuesday.

For Wanzie, who has been embraced by this team and community, it is bigger than just football.

“It’s my first year coaching here, and the way they’ve accepted me into their family is and everything they’ve done is just been marvelous. I just can’t believe everything that they’ve done,” said Wanzie.

To Woodland and its players, Wanzie and his family are their family too.

“I don’t know if I could just use a few words but if I had to, I would say the most memorable guy, the most helpful guy, any helpful word you wanna use to describe Coach Wanzie works. He has completely changed my life and made me realize that life is short. I will never respect someone as much as I’ve respected Coach Wanzie,” said Michael Strachan, Woodland Captain.

The proceeds from the sales will go toward medical costs for Wanzie’s granddaughter, Alivia Valeri, who is battling brain cancer at only 5 years old.

Even at such a young age, Valeri appreciates her Hawks.

“It feels pretty good because they really support me a lot, and I feel so proud of them because it feels nice to have them here,” said Alivia.

“She’s been such a trooper during the whole thing, weekly chemo treatments and whatnot. It’s just amazing how strong she is and how strong my daughter and her husband is,” said Wanzie.

To support Alivia in her battle with cancer, CLICK HERE.