T-Birds, M&T Bank's "Better Together" Program Shines in 2022-23 SeasonMay 4, 2023
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The Springfield Thunderbirds had another banner year of community outreach and charitable involvement in the Pioneer Valley. Through the club's "Better Together" Community Partnership with M&T Bank, the Thunderbirds' players and mascot Boomer made more than 300 community visits this season, and the organization raised more than $131,000 for charity.
"From our earliest days as a franchise, we have prided ourselves on being a shining example of lifting up our community," said Thunderbirds President Nathan Costa. "The support from our partners at M&T Bank has been instrumental, and our shared vision of being community pillars is carried out daily by everyone in our organization, from the front office staff to Boomer and through to our players as well. They have been so gracious and impactful with their time. We may be a hockey team with goals of winning games and a Calder Cup, but our collaborative efforts toward bettering the greater Springfield area are a terrific victory every season."
"M&T Bank is honored to be the presenting sponsor of the Springfield Thunderbirds Community Program “Better Together,” which is a true testament to the power of collaboration," said Jaimye Kelley, Senior Vice President & Team Leader at M&T Bank. "Both of our organizations have worked tirelessly to focus on the importance of supporting our communities and this program embodies that ideal. We couldn’t be more proud of this partnership and the future ahead for Springfield!”
The 2022-23 season saw the return of Thunderbirds players in the community following a year of COVID-related restrictions in 2021-22, and the impact was noticeable from the early portions of the season. T-Birds players combined to make more than 70 appearances in the community. Among the highlights was the return to youth hockey organizations, where the pros lent their encouragement and expertise to the next wave of Thunderbirds' stars.
As the T-Birds shined a light on cancer-fighting awareness in the month of November, forward Will Bitten - the T-Birds' Man of the Year - joined in the battle on the front lines, re-establishing Bitsy's Army, a family-started fundraising campaign that honors the memory of his late cousin, Martin Piche, who sadly passed away in 2021 from a cancerous brain tumor. Through a creative establishment of a Bitsy's Army merchandise line and pregame Bitsy's Army warmup jerseys, the T-Birds Foundation raised $5,000 for brain cancer research in Bitten's native Ontario. Another $5,000 was also contributed to local cancer charities in Western Massachusetts, including Baystate Children's Hospital, Sister Caritas Cancer Center, CHD's Cancer House of Hope, and Survivor Journeys.
As the holiday season approached, the Thunderbirds took on a meaningful role in Rock 102's annual Mayflower Marathon, which collected more than $170,000 in food and monetary donations for Open Pantry. To celebrate the conclusion of the Marathon on Nov. 23, the T-Birds welcomed Rock 102 for the inaugural "Mayflower Marathon Night" at the Thunderbirds game. The MassMutual Center also served as a hub for donation collection throughout the month, on top of the main drop-off point at MGM Springfield. T-Birds players delivered their own canned good donations the morning of the game as well.
In December, Thunderbirds players brought teddy bears and holiday cheer to a wide array of youth-focused charities in the aftermath of the team's 6th Annual Teddy Bear Toss on Dec. 10 at the MassMutual Center. T-Birds fans also showcased their generosity, as a combined 6,083 stuffed animals were donated, setting a new club record. Benefactors included the Ronald McDonald House, CHD, Boys & Girls Club of Greater Springfield, Martin Luther King Family Services Center, and the Boys & Girls Club Family Center.
The T-Birds' annual M&T Bank Hometown Heroes Night on Jan. 28 also brought a new element to this year's celebration of emergency service personnel. For the first time, the team turned the Thunderdome into a stair-climbing racetrack for the first-ever Sticks & Stairs. Proceeds raised benefited the American Lung Association.
For the third time, the T-Birds and CHD collaborated on a Sensory Friendly Sunday game on Feb. 26, which allowed fans with sensitivities to light and sound to be able to enjoy a hockey game with consistent lighting and toned-down volume. Springfield College's Occupational Therapy students also had the opportunity to garner real-world experience, as they oversaw a pair of "cool-down" stations for those who needed a break from the game action.
T-Birds fans were also able to get their four-legged friends in on the fun in March for the annual Pucks & Paws game, which this year was branded as St. Pawdy's Day. During this game, each "dog ticket" purchased saw proceeds benefit the Foundation for TJO Animals, with the support of Smithland Pet Center.
As the season came to a close, the Thunderbirds had yet another special experience lined up for area children undergoing medical hardship when Make-A-Wish Massachusetts/Rhode Island community members had the opportunity to get a backstage tour of the T-Birds' facilities and give high-fives to the team for their penultimate home game of the regular season on April 14.
The T-Birds' continued involvement within the Springfield school and library systems took the spotlight as well, thanks to the foresight of Anthony Angello's Book Club. Angello, along with Boomer and several Thunderbird teammates, made five visits to various Springfield City Library branches with the goal of imparting a lifetime love of reading and learning to young students of varying ages. Participating library branches also received donations of school supplies from the T-Birds Foundation to better serve their neighborhoods.
Throughout the year, the Thunderbirds' Stick to Reading Program, sponsored by MassMutual, also made its triumphant return to the classroom after a virtual program from 2020-22. 32 area schools took part in the program, and more than 1,500 students earned certificates for completing their reading goals and were rewarded with a free ticket to a Thunderbirds game this season. Nearly 11,000 total school students and families were reached through the program.
The Thunderbirds still generated copious funds inside the Thunderdome as well. Postgame jersey auctions from Military Appreciation Night and Pink in the Rink generated thousands in contributions for military charities, as well as another milestone achievement for the Rays of Hope: $30,000 raised in celebration of the organization's 30th anniversary. That marked a record total for a Thunderbirds' Pink in the Rink Night. That tradition each March has sold out each and every season since its inception in 2017.
While the season has come to a close, the Thunderbirds' front office staff and Boomer will continue to be mainstays in the greater Springfield area this summer. For more information on upcoming events, stay tuned to the T-Birds on social media @ThunderbirdsAHL, or visit the Community tab on the team's official website, www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com.