The whistle blows, but the chains don’t budge. After failing to convert on third down, the Allentown Central Catholic High School football team’s offensive players jog off the field, replaced by the special teams unit.
The whistle blows again. This time, the ball is snapped to the placeholder, who perches it perfectly on the damp turf below. The ball is kicked, flying high between two neon yellow goalposts, once again hitting the turf, but this time far beyond the end zone.
For senior kicker Rustin Seyle, the ball he just kicked means a whole lot more than the three points added to the scoreboard.
Rustin has pledged this season to Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a foundation aimed at raising money to research a cure for childhood cancer. For each field goal and extra point he scores, he’s asked members of his community to pledge a monetary donation to the cause as a part of a campaign called Kick-It Champions.
“There’s a lot of people out there that are affected by (childhood cancer),” Rustin said. “For someone to go out there and spend their time trying to help raise money, it means a lot to those families. Even though I don’t know many of them personally, it helps them out a tremendous amount.”
Alex’s Lemonade Stand’s Kick-It Champion program was first started by then-Ohio State University kicker Matt Colella, who battled cancer while he was in middle school. Inspired to give back, Colella asked friends, family and fans to pledge a dollar amount for each point he scored or to make a one-time donation to his cause.
Rusty Seyle, Rustin’s dad, said Rustin attended Kohl’s Kicking Camp his sophomore year, where he learned about Alex’s Lemonade Stand and the Kick-It Champions program. At the camp, he heard Liz Scott, founder of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, speak and was inspired to join the fight against childhood cancer.
“When he first said he wanted to do this, I thought it was great and I was really proud of him,” Rusty said. “We’ve always talked about giving back and helping others. I was proud that he was taking initiative and doing this on his own.”
Today, there are hundreds of Kick-It Champion campaigns across the United States, spanning beyond football to other sports such as hockey, soccer, tennis, basketball and baseball. To date, these campaigns have raised over $860,000 and the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation has funded more than 800 grants at 135 academic institutions and research hospitals.
Annie Korp, the communications and public relations coordinator for Alex’s Lemonade Stand, said since 2013 there have been close to 500 different Kick-It Champion campaigns and that Rustin’s campaign has been one of the most successful in the two seasons that he has been participating.
Rustin’s campaign is number eight on the 2018 leaderboard. The $8,200 he has raised in two years puts him in the top 15 overall.
Though Rustin is the one who brought this idea to fruition and is physically kicking the ball and adding points to the scoreboard, he credits much of his success to his community and specifically his teammates, especially those on the special teams unit.
“A lot of them have donated,” Seyle said. “A lot of them really feel, especially on the special points team, like they’re contributing by blocking and helping out. What they do directly affects how much money I make, which then affects the amount of people helped.”
Justin Pasquale, Seyle’s teammate and the captain of the ACCHS Vikings, said he and Seyle have been on the same football team since they were in the fifth grade and their chemistry as teammates and friends have grown tremendously over the years.
Pasquale said it’s inspiring to see his longtime friend so dedicated to a great cause.
“You don’t usually see a high school kid that cares so much about such a serious disease and uses his athletic ability to work toward a cure,” he said.
Logan Bachman, Pasquale’s co-captain and a teammate of Rustin, said everyone on the team is incredibly supportive of the campaign because the idea behind it is amazing and brings them together beyond just football.
“We (his teammates) always try to put him in the best position to follow through with his great kicking abilities,” Bachman said.
In a game on Sept. 22, Pasquale and Bachman were both on the sideline cheering Rustin on when he kicked a 46-yard field goal, setting a new ACCHS school record.
When the final whistle blows and marks the end of Rustin’s high school career, he’s not sure how he will continue supporting this cause, but he knows he will find a way.