He was the driving force. The inspiration. The ultimate friend.
In an effort to repay the favor, a small crew of devoted volunteers will once again pull off the annual Matt and …
He was the driving force. The inspiration. The ultimate friend.
In an effort to repay the favor, a small crew of devoted volunteers will once again pull off the annual Matt and Grace Golf Tournament, named in honor of Johnston native Matthew DiIorio.
The event raises money for the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance (FARA), and every penny will be used to help fight the disease that claimed Matthew’s life last Fourth of July.
“When I think of Matt my first thoughts are joyous,” recalled friend and tournament organizer Dave Interlini. “Despite facing physical challenges most of us can’t fathom he never let FA change who he was as a person. He blessed us with so many gifts: his infectious smile and laugh, his incredible love of life, family, and friends, his limitless strength and bravery, and his genuine happiness for others. Personally, I was always in awe of how happy he was for me when I was doing things every boy dreams of: playing basketball, learning to drive, getting married, and raising a family. Despite these being things I know he would’ve loved to do, he never let envy or bitterness affect him. For all he did for me the golf tournament is an expression of gratitude and an opportunity to give thanks to Matt for the joy and impact he brought to all of our lives. He was truly a blessing from God.”
There are still spots open in the Fifth Annual Race for Matt and Grace Golf Tournament , scheduled for Friday, Aug. 19, at the Connecticut National Golf Course. The tournament will start at noon with registration and lunch, and a 1 p.m. shotgun.
While enjoying the links, participants will have the tournament’s namesake on their mind.
“On the other side of the coin there is pain,” Interlini said. “We cannot ignore the heartache associated with losing Matt and his prolonged battle with FA. Matt and I were together for so much: from making our first communion, to playing Little League, to attending Mount Saint Charles then returning to Johnston High School, to being in my wedding party. Watching Matt’s health deteriorate and the sacrifices his family had to make through the years was a harsh reality of the cruelty of FA. With this golf tournament it is our hope that the funds raised will help advance research and eventually lead to a cure so one day no other family will have to go through the same hurt as Diiorios. Despite our agonizing loss we continue to move forward and remain optimistic.”
Ryan Sukaskas looked back on the past half-decade. This year will be the fifth Race for Matt & Grace Golf Tournament.
“The initial driving force for adding a Golf Event to The Race for Matt and Grace (RFMG) fundraising efforts was Matt’s pure enjoyment of the game,” Sukaskas recalled. “He loved to play as a child and in recent years became a fan and friend of a PGA Golfer. Matt religiously watched all his matches and even attended his tour events on occasion. We simply loved the idea of having Matt back in a golf cart, riding around greeting people with his massive smile and contagious optimism. For a person who bore such a heavy burden, he seemed to not have a personal care in the world.”
Sukaskas said Matt’s friends, the event organizers, would like “future RFMG Tournaments to serve a dual purpose.”
“Fundraising to help Fredrich’s Ataxia Research, but more importantly, to provide a mechanism for Matt’s friends and family to come together to celebrate the life of a very special person,” Sukaskas said. “Whether you just met Matt, or he was a constant fixture in your life, he made a lasting impact on you. Matt was a Superhero. His ability to smile in the face of devastation and be a beacon of light, knowing there was darkness ahead, were just some of his superpowers. Matt has always done more for all of us then we ever did for him. He taught us that people and the relationships you foster are the most important things in life. He taught us that ‘our problems’ are not really problems, and we need to just enjoy life a little. Most importantly, to always keep smiling.”
Family friend and fellow tournament organizer Steve Placella offered “a tribute first to Matthew DiIorio, next to his parents and finally to his friends … the result of observations over many, many years, from sometimes up close and from other times afar.”
“Matthew DiIorio was born in 1981,” Placella recounted. “Some time in the second decade of his life he was diagnosed with a genetic neurological disease called Friedreich’s Ataxia, which is severely debilitating and ultimately fatal. There is no present cure for this disease. Matthew passed away on July 4, 2021. Many of us called him Matt D. Apparently in 1981, there were too many Matthews born and living in Johnston, so we had to identify them all with a last name initial.”
“As a young boy, he was filled with spunk, vigor, a great sense of humor and a spark that drew others to him,” Placella wrote in his tribute. “He participated in a host of youth sports such as soccer, little league baseball and hockey, to name a few. Matthew’s parents, Jack and Sallyann, were always in constant motion schlepping him to and from ball fields and hockey rinks.”
“Matt, while playing various sports, also had room in his life to root on his favorite professional teams like the New York Yankees and the New York Football Giants,” Placella continues. “One game or another was always on a television at the DiIorio home and it could get pretty raucous there during the Giant football games on a Sunday afternoon. Matt’s friends were always at the house for these games to share Matt’s friendship and Sallyann’s pizza and spinach pies. It would not be uncommon for the remote control to go flying from Matt’s hand after a particularly poor Giant play. Nor would it be uncommon for Sallyann, while in the kitchen, to just call out the word, ‘Language!’ after a poor Giant play had riled up Matt and the boys. This display of loyal friendship, camaraderie and love continued for years and years and years.”
“As Matt’s condition worsened in his teenage years, it was necessary for him to use a wheelchair in order to get around,” Placella wrote. “This obstacle didn’t impede him. He was at every high school game and social function. When a physical obstacle got in the way, his friends or family would literally carry Matt up, over or around it. He participated in every event possible and his high school years were busy and memorable. He graduated from Johnston High School in 1999. College? No problem. Matt graduated in 4 and a half years from Bryant University with a liberal arts degree in communications. Many of us parents would pray that our kids would graduate in that time frame.”
“Matt also began to disc jockey various functions and events,” Placella recalled. “In most cases, his dad, Jack, was responsible for transporting him and helping to set up the equipment. At other times, his friends would pitch in to help. For years, nothing seemed to slow Matt down. He was at sporting events, social events, charity game dinners and many other events. You name it and he was there. Over the years, many friends had remained a constant in Matt’s live. With other friends, life’s turns took them in different directions or to different places. But each were made better by Matt and he by them. The constant theme here is that the mention of Matt D.’s name brings a smile to the face of each and every one of them. A chance meeting with Matt’s parents always brings a hug or a kiss and always a smile. There is nothing better.”
Why raise money?
“In 2010, Matt, some of his friends, his parents and others decided to raise funds for (FARA), a charitable organization created to ultimately find a cure for this disease,” Placella explained. “They all jumped into this endeavor at warped speed. They, along with others, sponsored (and still do) an annual race/walk, a multitude of fun social events and more recently, a charitable golf tournament. Since that time, they have raised well over a million dollars for this organization and it continues. Please let that roll off your tongue for a minute … Over a million dollars!”
“So, to Matt D.,” Placella concludes. “Once a young boy, then a young man and finally a full grown adult; your spark and perseverance has forever enriched our lives and continues to do so. To Matt D.’s friends, I know that Matt’s spark has enlightened your lives as you have enlightened his. Your demonstrated dedication, loyalty and love are things to behold. To Matt D.’s parents, Jack and Sallyann, your love for Matt showed us all how truly great parents should be. Somehow this should be bottled and distributed to all future parents.”
Last year’s tournament raised approximately $16,000 (after expenses) for the fight against FA. Men’s, women’s and co-ed divisions cost $140 per player. Memorial Tee Signs cost $65, and Tee Sponsor signs cost $85. Your organization can become a Major Sponsor for $500. Visit www.RFMGGolf.com to register for golf, become a sponsor, purchase tee signs or make a donation.
You can still participate. Email RFMGGolf@gmail.com for more information or with questions.
All funds raised will benefit FARA. More information on FA can be found at www.curefa.org/rfmg (checks to FARA may be mailed to 533 W. Uwchlan Ave., Downingtown, PA 19335; reference RFMG).
AN INSPIRATION: During last year’s tournament, Alex Fielding pointed to a photo of Matt DiIorio. (Sun Rise FILE photos)
ABOVE PAR: From left to right, Alex Fielding, Jack DiIorio, Steve Westell, Mike Interlini, Vincent LaFazia pose for a group photo.
DANGEROUS DRIVERS: From left to right, David Pingitore, David Iannuccilli, Richard Boehm, Keith Calci, Tom Balkun, Adam Pontbriant and Anthony Colella played to honor Matt DiIorio.
SHOOTING EAGLES: From left to right, John Healey, Tom Goodwin, Eamonn Hartnett and Matt Cubellis played in the tournament.
IN MEMORY: Jim Veator and Victoria Veator attended the fourth annual Race for Matt and Grace Golf Tournament.
CORE CREW: Johnston residents Jack DiIorio, Matt DiIorio, Sallyann DiIorio and Race for Matt and Grace co-chair/best friend Michael Crawley, of Cranston, took this photograph together in 2017. Matt passed away in 2021, but the race and golf tournament are still going strong in his memory. And there’s still room to enter. (Sun Rise FILE PHOTO)
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