Just outside of the fields of Tunkhannock Area School District, the town of the same name has been basically shuttered as a result of Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home directive.

Local mom and pop shops, who had revitalized the historic downtown shopping district, were fighting for their existence, while those lucky few that were allowed to operate, had to implement strict changes and business practices. More often than not, these changes came with a costly fee and no promise of financial return.

Instead of waiting for the doors to their favorite shops and eateries to close permanently, a group of Tiger athletes banded together with the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce to make a positive difference and raise awareness, and money, for those affected.

The #PlayHardShopSmall initiative was born, and represents all the businesses in the small town.

On June 26, Tunkhannock will come together with the opportunity for everyone to donate money to help support the town’s shops. The student athletes will lead the event, offering the chance to get to know them and interact with the varsity team members.

Every donation and all the money raised from registrations will go into the fund, as every business involved is donating their services.

Allison Schultz, WyCCC marketing and events coordinator, said, “The businesses bring culture and variety, support each other, and have a passion to make our town a place to visit and remember. These small businesses will do anything to help each other and anyone else. Now it is our time to give back and help them as they reopen and struggle to bounce back after the shutdown.”

The WyCCC contacted four student athletes at Tunkhannock, all members of the high school Future Business Leaders of America chapter, and set the idea in motion.

“The Chamber contacted me and I was all for it immediately,” said Jack Chilson, FBLA president and varsity football, basketball, and track and field athlete. “It is hard to see, when you drive down our main street and see the doors closed. As athletes, those same businesses have supported us from the beginning.”

Chilson, who just completed his junior year, continued, “It is time we stepped up to give back, for all the money they have given us through the years. It’s our time now, they need us.”

One instance Chilson remembers was when the steering committee needed donations for a purse bingo they were running.

“It was a huge success, because of all of the donations we received from the businesses. Whether it was a sponsorship, food, gift basket, or gift card- every business I went to gave something,” he explained.

“To me, it shows how encompassing and empowering our community is when it comes together. We help each other out without even thinking twice,” said Chilson.

Senior Sophie Burke offered, “Throughout my youth, I played on softball teams sponsored by these businesses, I always knew the community had my back on the field.”

Burke, who was a captain of the school’s field hockey team this past fall, continued, “More recently, Chippy White Table generated a sweatshirt sale and donated part of the proceeds to my project in the Intermediate Center, You Go Girl!. Each time I reach out to businesses in Tunkhannock, they are so receptive and willing to show support by hanging a flyer in their windows, donating money or goods. I feel really lucky to have their support.”

The event on June 26 is still in the planning stages, and depending what phase the county is in will determine the platform and venue.

“We are fortunate to have Moodus Media, a professional advertising and marketing company in Falls, donating their services to our cause, and making a professional online platform for us to host the event,” said Schultz.

If the county is able to congregate in person safely, the Chamber has two locations in mind to host a live event, but it is waiting to see how many people register and respond to the initiative.

“Small businesses are the heart of our community,” said Burke. “Now in their time of need, I want to be involved in giving to them.”

A few years ago, 12 families in our town experienced firsthand the unwavering support of small town businesses, as the Tunkhannock Little League softball team advanced to the Softball Little League World Series in Portland, Oregon.

“We witnessed the whole town get behind us, now it’s time to reverse it,” said Mike Marabell.

Marabell is the varsity football coach, and watched his daughter play in that very same World Series as a result of the outpouring.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those girls and their families, and the town never even blinked. They are always there for us,” he continued.

“The Chamber could not have chosen any better ambassadors for this project- Jack, Jake, Elizabeth, and Sophie are what we hope for from our student-athletes,” said Marabell. “This is a great eye opener for all kids, they see how to build relationships in the communities where they live, and how working together makes everything possible.”

“I have always had a close relationship with small businesses because my family owns and operates one in town, so when Mrs. Schultz contacted me, I was all on board,” said Jake Frisco, a senior football and basketball player.

He added, “No sports season is possible without our small businesses. From tee ball to varsity, businesses have been helping us. Every year the football team puts on a dinner with huge prizes, all donated by small businesses and helps us raise money. So without them we couldn’t have a season.”

“You can log onto our link, wyccc.com/playhardshopsmall/ and register or click one of three options,” said Schultz. “First, you can participate in the event by registering for the $15, you can purchase a teeshirt, or you can donate any amount of money. Again, 100 percent of the money is going back into the businesses in our town.”

Elizabeth DeMarco said, “When I was younger, all my teams in basketball and softball were named after our team’s sponsor, so our team would know who we were playing for and who made things possible. I also had recent connections with small businesses through the steering committee. In cases where we needed sponsorships for our fundraisers, so many small businesses in our town were more than willing to help us out and support us.”

“I have a deep appreciation for the small businesses and all they do for our community, this initiative is a great opportunity to support them and give back,” added the three-sport senior.

If a live event is held, community members and Tunkhannock’s youth will have the opportunity to interact with the varsity athletes, as well as members of TAHS’s marching band and other clubs.

“I remember when I was younger, I looked up to the high school athletes, so we are going to give them the chance to come out and maybe hang out and throw a little with us,” said Chilson.

“The band will kick off the festivities, and play throughout the hour,” explained Schultz.

Chilson offered another unique perspective as he ventures into the world of college searches.

He said, “I have been all over the country for my college searches, but Tunkhannock brings, to me, a sense of pride that when you walk down the street, or are out...you will see someone you know and stop and say hello. We have a perfect size class in school, where we are able to get to know everyone. I am proud to be from Tunkhannock, and always will be no matter where I go.”

DeMarco said, “Being from a small town like Tunkhannock means a lot to me. No matter what, I will always have the sweetest town to come home to. One of my favorite parts of the small town is having the opportunity to know so many people. You go to the store, the park, or the track, and you are greeted with a hello from a familiar face. In Tunkhannock, everyone has each other’s back.”

“I love living in a small town. It has a family atmosphere to it, you know everyone and everyone knows you. We rally together for so many different things and support each and everyone,” added Frisco.

Burke echoed her classmates by saying, “Tunkhannock has given me a strong sense of community and the desire to give back. I have lived here for the entirety of my life and I’ve grown with a town that is evolving daily. As I go to college next year, Tunkhannock will be in my heart and I will bring the lessons I’ve learned back home.”

“This is going to be a great thing for the businesses, a great thing to be a part of. The Chamber of Commerce should be recognized for putting this together,” said Chilson. “During this time in our history, it will show Tunkhannock’s perseverance, and if our tight knit past is any indicator of what we can do, we will be stronger than ever.”

For more information, and to make a donation, please go to wyccc.com/playhardshopsmall/

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