NEW PORT RICHEY - No matter what River Ridge does on the football field this season, Royal Knights assistant coach Gary Allen has made sure the players' efforts will have a lasting benefit off the field.
Allen has spearheaded an effort for River Ridge's season to be dedicated to the memory of Amanda Zampella, a former student of his who died in 2003 from complications stemming from Ataxia-Telangiectasia disease. Also known as A-T, it is defined as a rare, progressive, neurodegenerative childhood disease that affects the brain and other body systems.
As part of the dedication, players will wear a white heart sticker with 'AZ '08' on the back of their purple helmets, starting tonight against Sunlake. In addition, all proceeds from the 50/50 raffle drawings at each Royal Knights home game will be donated to the A-T Children's Project, a nonprofit organization that raises money to research potential cures for the disease. Pamphlets also will be available at the gate.
Zampella was a student of Allen's when he taught physical education at Cotee River Elementary School, and would have been a senior at River Ridge this year.
Though many of the players did not know Zampella, they watched a short, student-produced documentary about her life Thursday. Allen described it as motivational.
'The courage she showed, never complaining about pains or wanting to let coaches down, she had a lot of great qualities that football kids should have instilled in them,' Allen said. 'I've known for years that I was going to do this. She made a difference in my life.'