Sophia Smith (front row, right) poses with her twin sister, Annabelle (front row, left) and tournament organizers Billy Ackerman (back left) and Derek Marino (back right) at Tuesday's tournament. (ITEM PHOTO BY KATIE MORRISON)

Marblehead’s Ackerman, Marino team up for Sophia

MARBLEHEAD -- Billy Ackerman and Derek Marino know what it takes to make Marblehead proud. Both were members of the Magicians boys basketball team that rose to the top of the Northeastern Conference this past winter.

Tuesday evening on the basketball courts at Marblehead’s Gatchell Park, Ackerman and Marino teamed up for a different cause. But they still, per usual, made their hometown proud.

The two Marblehead High student-athletes paired up to organize the first annual “Shooting for Sophia 3-on-3 basketball tournament.” The goal of the tournament was to help Sophia Smith, an 11-year-old Marblehead native who was diagnosed with an aggressive, rare inoperable brain tumor this past March. After six weeks of treatment at Children’s Hospital in Boston, Smith’s journey will take her to Harley Street Clinic in London for her next steps of treatment.

Both Ackerman, who also plays on the school’s tennis team, and Marino, also a member of the Magicians football team, were all in on helping Smith’s cause in any way they could. That’s when the two came together to organize Tuesday’s tournament.

“This means a lot,” Marino said. “We’ve been family friends for a while. It’s been going around town and everybody knows about it. We just wanted to do something to help out. The family’s going through a lot.”

“We’re family friends with Sophia’s family,” Ackerman said. “As soon as we heard about it and what happened, we immediately got involved.”

And once the wheels on the basketball tournament were in motion, Ackerman and Marino had no doubts about the unwavering support the event would receive from fellow members of the Marblehead community. Once they began to spread the word, teams began to sign up quickly.

“Organizing it wasn’t too hard,” Ackerman, who’ll be a junior in the fall, said. “I knew a lot of my friends would do it. We knew we could spread the word easily, so we made a lot of flyers.”

“Everyone thought it was a great idea,” Marino, a rising senior, said. “More and more teams started reaching out. We were expecting 18 teams but we’re up to 25 teams. More teams showed up today.”

A handful of the teams in the tournament were made up of Marblehead High student athletes, including members of the boys and girls basketball teams. Local student athletes from surrounding communities also participated and showed their support.

“It’s a great feeling seeing everyone come down here and support,” Marino said. “All my friends are down here and there are a lot of people that I don’t know who came down to support. That’s great, seeing everyone come down.”

“It’s awesome,” Ackerman said. “I know most of the people who are playing. It’s really about the whole community coming together for Sophia.”

The three-on-three tournament games were played two at a time, using half of the court. Each game was decided based on which team scored seven points first, or ended after nine minutes of play with the leading team taking the win.

The tournament kicked off with a group photo including Smith and all the participants, followed by a performance by the Marblehead High cheerleaders.

“This says that we’re just great people,” Marino said. “We just like to come out and support each other during times of need.”

“It says a lot about our community,” Ackerman said. “People here are generous. We’re a very generous community.”

Tuesday’s tournament raised $2100, going directly to Smith and her treatment.


More information on Smith’s journey can be found on the cause’s Facebook page by searching #armsaroundSophia. Those interested in contributing can make a donation to the Sophia Smith Fund at National Grand Bank or by purchasing t-shirts, bracelets or stickers at Village Pharmacy.


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