Ty Shields, left, at his 1994 high school graduation with Bianca D’Elia and Jeff Kemmerer.
More than 20 years ago when 19-year-old Ty Shields died of acute lymphoblastic leukemia after a courageous battle of more than a year, his best friends were devastated. A 1994 Mt. Lebanon High School grad, Ty really was everyone’s “best friend,” because he treated people that way.
Ty’s parents, Patty and Terry Shields, and siblings Jason, Drew and Emily were, of course, grief-stricken, but they also were touched by the huge hole Ty’s loss left not only in their family but also in Ty’s many circles of friends.
Working with some of their son’s buddies, as well as their own close friends such as Jane and Howard Voigt, Al and Anne D’Alo and John and Carol Ferguson, they set out to create a legacy in Ty’s memory. The Ty Shields Memorial Golf Tournament debuted at Lindenwood Golf Club in 1996 with the goal of presenting a scholarship in Ty’s name to a Mt. Lebanon High School student. The idea was to provide an ongoing legacy for Ty at an event where friends and family could share their grief, as well as their happy memories.
The first scholarship award, to Julie D’Alo, now a doctor, was for $1,500. This June 20—Father’s Day Weekend—at Quicksilver Golf Club, a lucky Mt. Lebanon girl or boy will receive a scholarship for $15,000. Unlike many memorial events, which tend to fizzle, this one has thrived, making the scholarship the second largest awarded each year at Mt. Lebanon High School.
This scholarship draws about 50 applicants each year. What distinguishes it is that it does not go to the brightest or the best scholar/athlete or even to the student who needs the money the most. Instead, it rewards a young man or woman who, like Ty, is kind, friendly, funny and engaged in activities, someone who will grow up to be a good citizen, family member, neighbor and friend—the sort of adult all envision Ty would have become.
Mt. Lebanon High School math teacher Albert D’Alo, 39, was Ty’s next-door neighbor and classmate. He is on the board of the 501(c3)organization that runs the annual fundraiser and scholarship program and works with his fellow teachers and the organization’s board to select the annual winner. He and fellow board members—Sam Kane, Mike DeLuca, TJ Compagnone, Libby Mascaro, Mike Mooney and Drew Shields—interview four or five candidates the faculty recommends and make the final selection.
The board members, now all approaching 40, initially relied on Ty’s parents and other adults with special skills for guidance, but the elder generation has stepped back now and placed the foundation in Ty’s classmates’ capable hands. The board members agree it’s an honor to meet the candidates and say it’s difficult to choose only one.
“We’re looking for a well-rounded, well-liked person—the kind of person who, when they’re not there, you know they were absent that day,” says D’Alo. “No one is ever just like Ty, but we see aspects of him in every candidate. They’re all overly qualified superstars.”
Over the years, the fund-raiser has generated $114,500 in scholarship money. In addition, it has resulted in donations of $19,000 to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and $19,000 to the National Marrow Donation Program. Early on, the group contributed $21,000 to build a cabin named after Ty for Kon-o-Kwee Spencer, the YMCA camp’s program for children with special needs.
“It’s been very rewarding for my parents,” says Drew Shields.
In addition to the golf tournament and dinner ($150), this year’s 20th anniversary event will feature raffles, an auction and a festive celebration on Quicksilver’s outdoor patio including games for kids with high school volunteers supervising. For an invitation or to become a sponsor, visit www.tyshieldsgolftournament.org .
Two decades after their friend’s death, the heart-broken teens who attended the first tournament are grownups with families of their own. They recognize that they are stewards of an important community asset. Says board member Mike DeLuca, “Yes, it’s about Ty, and we like getting together, but we also have a responsibility to perpetuate [the fundraiser] because we’re raising money for charity.”
Kane agrees that working as a group on the annual golf outing and scholarship program has been a mutually satisfying experience. “Now we’re running an organization,” he says—one that has helped us grieve, stay together as friends and grow professionally. ”