Wilton-Ridgefield game Saturday part of ALS fund-raiser

When it comes to high school sports, the competition between Wilton and Ridgefield is always intense, especially in boys hockey.

Past games throughout the years have featured intense play on the ice and boisterous — and occasionally boorish — behavior in the stands (and parking lot).

This year, however, the game will be special because of a benevolent aspect. When the two rivals meet this Saturday (4:10) at the Winter Garden in Ridgefield, the teams and towns will join together for an ALS research fund-raiser.

Following symptoms of grip weakness and throat tightness, Eric Craven, 47, the father of David, a senior forward on the Wilton boys hockey team, and juniors Elizabeth and Amanda, players on Wilton's girls team, was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) in April 2013. The prognosis was severe: Eric’s mind would remain sharp, but his body would begin to decline. Doctors said Eric would likely have just five more years to live.

When Wilton High boys hickey coach Brett Amero found out about Eric’s illness, he approached the Craven family with the idea of helping to raise awareness and funds for ALS.

“No one has more positive influence to your children than their high school coaches,” said Claire Craven. “To have them reach out and want to do something special is a gift to Eric he will never be able to replace ... to know your coaches, teammates, and school has your back, is everything.”

Motivated by the incredible success of last summer's ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the Cravens did some brainstorming and came  up with a plan that that included the Wilton High boys and girls teams — as well as the Ridgefield High boys team in order to show how the hockey family could come together to help one of its own.

“I think it's awesome how much support this event has gotten from both the hockey team and the community,” said David Craven. “Many people have put in a lot of time and effort and it means a lot to my family and me. I also think it’s cool how both teams and rivals were able to come together for something bigger than the game of hockey.”

It’s a sentiment shared by his Wilton teammates.

“The fund-raiser definitely shows how close the whole team is,” said senior tri-captain Kyle Jonas. “We would all do anything for each other; we have all become a big band of brothers.”

At Saturday’s game, the Craven family will be recognized before the opening face-off, and Wilton High senior Aine Duffy will sing the National Anthem. Players on each team will wear commemorative helmet stickers from Blueline Sports in Darien that were designed by Coach Amero. And players on the Wilton and Ridgefield girls teams will collect donations throughout the game.

A second fund-raiser takes place Saturday, Feb. 18, when the Wilton High boys and girls hockey teams play back-to-back games for the first time ever at the SoNo Ice House in Norwalk. The Wilton girls will face Hamden at 7, and the Wilton boys will play Norwalk/McMahon at 8:50.

The Wilton boys and girls players will wear specially designed jerseys that night, and there will be a recognition ceremony between the games.

Both events will help raise money for the ALS Therapy Development Institute — the world's first and largest nonprofit biotech focused 100% on ALS research. All funds up to 10,000 will be double matched, and 100% of the funds will go directly to research. The goal is to raise more than $40,000 for ALS research.

For more information, and to donate, visit als.net/craven.