ST. JOHNSBURY — Scores of young athletes are teaming up Sunday for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, helping to raise awareness and funds.

Athletic teams sporting game jerseys have been participating in the annual event for several years, and according to Michelle “Mimi” McCaffrey, Walk Planning Committee member and college counselor at St. Johnsbury Academy, it’s a win-win for them to be involved.

“It’s a great way for our teams to support our community and get a better understanding of the effects that Alzheimer’s has on so many families,” she said in an email.

All Walk participants, both sports teams and teams of people from area communities will gather outside the St. Johnsbury Welcome Center on Sunday. A ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. with the walk following at 10:15 a.m. There are one- and two-mile walking routes. The money raised furthers the care, support and research efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association to find a cure.

Six teams from St. Johnsbury Academy will be joining the Alzheimer’s fight this year. There will be football players, soccer players (girls and boys), cross-country runners (girls and boys), and for the first time, field hockey players will be in attendance.

Other area sports teams represented will be Lyndon Institute football players and members of the Rodliff Raiders youth football team.

“The level of support from athletic teams has remained strong this year,” said Jenna Johnson, from the Vermont chapter Of the Alzheimer’s Association. “We are incredibly grateful for the continued support and look forward to gathering as a community again on Sunday.”

The Walk to End Alzheimer’s has been happening locally for many years, but the level of participation by youth sports teams from the Academy began just a few years ago when Coach Rich Alercio, from the Hilltoppers football team, got his players involved. His teams have been attending ever since.

“This is a really good cause,” the coach said. “There’s a lot of good causes out there and this is just one in our community that a lot of people can get behind.”

He said he’s happy that his teams could serve as an example to other teams, referencing a “snowball effect” that has brought about such large youth teams participation.

The presence of his team at the event provides a noticeable boost to attendance.

“The visual presence of a team our size, all wearing jerseys, is very noticeable,” he said.

It’s a chance for his players to provide community service and to learn about health struggles that others face.

“It gives them an awareness that not everybody is blessed like they are to be healthy and athletic,” said Alercio.

In addition to the general awareness his teams gain about Alzheimer’s by taking part in the Walk, he’s had individual players with family connections to the disease whose perspectives make the event even more meaningful for teammates.

Alercio also said when his players walk the Walk, it draws attention to the team and could encourage members of the public to support the team during games.

“We have a saying: the hand that gives gathers,” he said. “If you want fans in the stands and you want them to support you, you have to support them.”

As of Thursday, 146 participants had registered for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s event. Local organizer, Nancy Poulos said that number doesn’t reflect youth sports teams that are committed. Thursday’s funding tally was $45,399, representing 80 percent of this year’s goal of $57,000. “I would just LOVE to hit that PRIOR to Walk Day,” Poulos said in an email.

People can still register online (act.alz.org/vermont). They can even register after the Walk. There’s also a QR code that individuals can scan at the Walk to register. Paper registration forms will also be available Sunday morning.

Poulos said she is looking forward to Sunday and the chance to gather for the Alzheimer’s cause, especially since the event last year couldn’t happen as normal due to the pandemic.

“I cannot tell you how excited I am for Walk Day, to be able to reunite with so many people that share the same passion that I do … a world without Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.

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