GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – When Catholic Central (“CC”) senior Danny Nelson organized the hockey team’s “Teddy Bear Toss” two years ago, he didn’t know the story of Billy Wondergem, a former member and captain of CC’s hockey team, or how that too related to teddy bears. Wondergem, a captain of the CC hockey team from 2003-2004, died unexpectedly in his sleep in 2010, shortly before starting medical school. His family and friends formed the Billy Bear Hug Foundation (“BBH”) to provide teddy bears and other sources of comfort to children with life-threatening illnesses (a tribute to his desire to pursue a career in pediatric oncology).
After making the connection, Nelson and the CC hockey team last year decided to bring BBH into the fold for their annual Teddy Bear Toss. Now, fifteen years after Wondergem wore the “C” for the Catholic Central Cougars and led the team into the State semi-finals, the team will come together with Byron Center in his memory on January 18th to provide bears to children in need of comfort.
When I first saw the Teddy Bear Toss at the Griffins’ game, I immediately fell in love with the concept,” said Nelson. “Such a fun and exciting environment all created in the spirit of giving back and helping your community.”
“It’s been a real privilege to get to know Danny and see his passion for this event, and to partner with the CC and Byron Center hockey programs for this this year of the Teddy Bear Toss,” said Charlie Wondergem, Billy’s younger brother and BBH board member. “Hockey held a special place in my brother’s heart, and he always cherished his time in the CC jersey. Given the level of student involvement we have from high school students through our Youth Advisory Board program, and Billy’s ties to CC and their hockey program, it’s a natural fit.”
“It’s incredible to see two organizations I care so much about [CC Hockey and Billy Bear Hug] come together. Being part of Billy Bear Hug is such a humbling experience – we get to impact the lives of so many children and is a great way to grow closer and build relationships with other high school students and the community,” said Jake Onstott, a CC junior and co-captain, and a member of the BBH Youth Advisory Board. “It’s always an honor putting on the CC jersey knowing that great people like Billy Wondergem have come before us.”
This year, they hope to build on the success of the last two years – which so far have generated nearly 4,000 bears – and use as a platform to extend to other schools and teams.
The game will begin at 7:30 PM on Friday, January 18th at Southside Ice Arena, with bears tossed after the first goal.