Rich Ronchi is on two lists, one of which he much prefers.
On the positive side, the former Lackawanna Trail and Wallenpaupack Area football coach has a beer that’s been brewed in his honor. Not a lot of people who can make that claim.
On the other side of the coin, it’s being done because Ronchi, who also was a longtime educator in the Trail and Wallenpaupack Area school districts, is being honored by a Long Island brewing company for being on the other list, that of a bone marrow transplant recipient.
And that beer, Put Me in Coach, will debut locally Nov. 30 at a fundraiser at Backyard Ale House in Scranton from 3-5 p.m.
At the Coaches vs. Cancer breakfast on Nov. 11, Rich’s sister, Donna Salva, detailed some of Rich’s recovery, and while the former assistant and head coach, and Wallenpaupack assistant coach under Stan Kucharski, was okay with a fundraiser, he was insistent that if it was going to happen, it was to benefit the HEADstrong Foundation, which built a facility in Swarthmore near Philadelphia to provide complimentary housing for cancer patients undergoing treatment and their families, and is in the process of building a similar facility in the New York City area. Rich’s wife, Colleen, has been staying there as the 73-year-old former biology teacher undergoes treatment.
The Big Apple is where Rich’s daughter, Lindsey Ronchi, manages a bar and is a craft beer aficionado, like some of those brewed by Barrier Brewing from Long Island.
“They’ve been so great,” Lindsey said. “They said we’d love to brew a beer with you for your dad. There’s 20-plus bars here in the city that have a keg, and they’re going to donate proceeds from the sale of the beer to the HEADstrong Foundation.”
From personal experience, I can tell you hotel rooms are not inexpensive near the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. In fact, Lindsey estimates HEADstrong has saved her family about $6,000 per month.
“They do a lot of good things,” Lindsey said.
Among them, helping the Ronchis, who were drawn into battle the day of Trail’s championship game loss in last year’s PIAA Class 1A football final.
“They were driving back from the game and he started to lose vision,” Lindsey said. “Took him straight to the hospital and multiple tests, multiple tests, multiple tests, they thought he’d had a small stroke, and more and more tests and the blood numbers were off for him.”
He was diagnosed with MDS, myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of leukemia and the same type of cancer that afflicted Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts, Lindsey explained.
“They said it’s a slow-burning leukemia but they said with his age, he probably would have had like 18 months if there was not a match,” said Lindsey, who was a slightly better match for the bone marrow transplant than her brother, Tim, a former Lions football standout and now a guidance counselor at Trail, his alma mater.
The transplant took place on the Ronchis’ 45th wedding anniversary, July 27, and this weekend was the first time Rich has been allowed out of the hospital on a weekend pass.
“We don’t know if (the transplant) has actually taken because he’s still on anti-rejection pills, but he’s doing well, he’s getting there,” Lindsey said.
That’s a step on the road to recovery we’re all glad to hear about. And a great way to honor Rich in his recovery would be to hit the fundraiser.
“Some of his old football coaches from Trail and Wallenpaupack will be there,” Lindsey said. “It definitely will be a fun, football family day, drinking some beers and telling some stories.”