Phil Martelli has faced challenges before in his life. He faced them as a player at Widener University, where he set school records for assists. He faced them in his 16 seasons as head men’s basketball coach at St. Joseph’s University, a span that produced 300 victories, eight Coach of the Year awards and four trips to the NCAA Tournament in the last 10 years.
Martelli has also faced challenges with his many charitable and community efforts. He is currently the chair of the Coaches vs. Cancer National Council as well as the co-chair of the Philadelphia chapter of that organization, as the city’s coaches have become one of the top fundraising groups in the country. He’s received numerous honors for his community work, and was named the 2004 “Citizen of the Year” by the March of Dimes, inducted into the CYO Hall of Fame for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and honored by the National Adoption Center. His alma mater, Widener University, gave him an honorary doctorate in public service in May 2004, while he has also received honorary doctorates from Cabrini College (2006) and Immaculata University (2010).
On Saturday, Martelli will be in Ocean City, on the boardwalk, to help another of his worthy causes – Walk For The Wounded to aid Operation First Response.
“Got a call from a St. Joe grad asking if I would talk with some guys from Delaware County,” Martelli remembers. “He thought I could help them out. As I listened to them, I was humbled when they asked me to be a spokesperson for the Walk in Delaware County. Steve Brady, the President of Ocean City Home Bank, heard about it and called me.”
Brady and Martelli were roommates at Widener, where Brady, a Holy Spirit graduate, played football. “I was a basketball player and Steve was a football player,” Martelli said, “but I’ve always been a fan who wanted to know about the inner workings of sports. There were many nights when I would ask Steve about how things happened on a football team. Not just the patterns and formations they were running but how they prepared, what happened in the locker room, how their coaches talked to them. It was a relationship in which I learned a lot that I am still using today.”
Brady saw his old roommate on TV talking about the Walk in Delaware County while he was working out in his gym.
“It’s not unusual to see Phil on television,” said Brady, “but as I listened he was talking about Operation First Response. I was immediately interested in getting involved. I called him right away.”
The result was a deep involvement in the fund-raising efforts of Operation First Response in 2009 by Brady and Ocean City Home Bank. They raised $25,000 that first year and, with more time to prepare, increased that to $42,000 last year. They expect Saturday’s event to be bigger.
Operation First Response (operationfirstresponse.org) helps provide assistance to veterans and their families, as well as those still on active duty.
There are others from the sports community who have offered their support of the cause. People like UConn womens coach Geno Auriemma, former Villanova coach and current CBS Sports analyst Steve Lappas, Temple mens coach Fran Dunphy and former NBA star Chris Ford.
The Operation First Response-Walk For The Wounded registration starts on Saturday at 10am in front of the Music Pier in Ocean City. The walk itself will begin at 11:30. The Phillie Phanatic will be there. So will Tracy Davidson of NBC-10 in Philadelphia. There will also be live music and lots more. Everybody who raises $50 or more will receive a free long-sleeve tee shirt.
“It feels great to give back to those who have given so much to all of us. But there is also a stirring feeling that you can do more,” said Martelli. “You’ll meet a 22-year old guy who gave a limb for his country. A 24-year old woman who has to change her way of life because of an injury suffered during her service. And many others. We’re all trying to do as much as we can to help and I have great admiration for Steve and the wonderful people at Ocean City Home Bank for how much they’ve done in a short time.”
Because of Operation First Response, thousands of wounded heroes and their families have received assistance with mortgage and rent, utilities, vehicle payments and groceries. Many more wounded heroes and their families have received air transportation. Wounded heroes and their families have received ground transportation and lodging. Nearly 10,000 Operation First Response backpacks have been sent to Combat Support Hospitals in Theatre. Thousands of wounded heroes and their family members have received emotional support.
“I challenge anybody who participates on Saturday not to get tears in their eyes at some point,” Martelli said. “There will be tears of appreciation and tears of sadness. But there will be more. I’ve always described it as a carnival for your senses. You’ll get something good to eat. You’ll hear some good music. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry. And it all will happen in such a beautiful setting, on the boardwalk in the great city of Ocean City.
“The really beautiful thing about Saturday’s Walk on the Boardwalk is that it’s a family activity. You’ll see grandparents walking with their grandchildren. There will be entire families, kids in strollers and on bikes and lots of proud veterans who realize what these young men and women are doing for us. This is our chance to show them how much we appreciate their sacrifice.”