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Wiregrass Ranch boys basketball program aids local family with ties to Haiti

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Wed. January 20, 2010 | Izzy Gould | Email

WESLEY CHAPEL — One of his sisters has been found alive. Two others remain missing among the ruins and chaos in Haiti. The most tragic news has been the death of his great nephew, a 4-year-old.
“He was hit in the head by a block,” said Gerard Thomas, a Wesley Chapel resident.
The 7.0 magnitude earthquake that rumbled beneath Port-au-Prince more than a week ago continues to rattle the emotions of local Haitians as they await word on the fate of family and friends.
As images of lifeless bodies being dumped into mass graves flash across television screens around the world, it’s clear many Haitians will never learn the true fate of their loved ones.
Thomas holds out hope.
“If I could go over there I would,” Gerard said. “I would look for them. …They might open travel soon.”
Thomas, 51, and his wife Yane, another native Haitian, have reached out locally for assistance. One call went to Wiregrass Ranch boys basketball coach Jeremy Calzone. Thomas’ son, Allen, played for Calzone for three years.
Calzone, who was grateful for Allen’s early loyalty to the team when others bailed on the fledgeling program, is hosting the MLK Classic on Saturday and will solicit donations on behalf of the Thomas family. The money will be used to send packages to Haiti, Gerard Thomas said.
The family is shipping 17 large moving boxes stuffed with donations that were collected prior to the earthquake. The Thomases have a garage filled with clothes and household items, including a stroller and refrigerator.
The cost for sending one box of clothes is $45, Thomas said.
“If I can get something to give them help, I want to do that,” said Thomas, whose 29-year-old cousin also died in a school that collapsed in his hometown of Jacmel. “If I have something to send over there I will. …People always need something over there. They’re desperate.”
• • •
Allen Thomas, now a student at Pasco-Hernando Community College, was the top player during Wiregrass Ranch’s  first season when the Bulls went 1-22 and lost games by an average of 26 points. The Bulls never came close to a winning season until Allen left. This year, they are one of the North Suncoast’s top programs.
“We had a couple of our best players jump ship, meaning they transferred,” Calzone said. “…Allen was the only one that stuck with the program. There were bumps along the way, but we grew together.
“We had 12 sophomores that first year and only two (lasted the entire season).”
Allen Thomas, 19, has never been to Haiti, so the images on television seem foreign. But it hits home when he sees the effect on his parents.
“When they first heard they were crying,” he said. “…Seeing them hurt from it makes me hurt because they’re my parents. It’s unbelievable. It’s not something you would expect to see at all. We’re just trying to survive and to see what’s happening over there is heartbreaking.”
Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@tampabay.com or (813) 421-3886.

MLK Classic
When:
Saturday
Schedule: Sunlake vs. Central, 11:30 a.m.; Ridgewood vs. Bloomingdale, 1:30 p.m.; East Lake vs. Land O’Lakes, 3:30 p.m.; Palm Harbor U. vs. Zephyrhills, 5:30 p.m.; Freedom vs. Wiregrass Ranch
Notable: Volunteers will be taking donations to help Haiti relief efforts throughout the day. …Wiregrass Ranch will honor Ricky Thomas (former Wiregrass football coach), Jimmy Dubose (former Gator and Buccaneer), Tony and Nyree Bland (Tony is a former Viking) for their continued support of the Bulls basketball program.

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