Matthew Centore’s ear-to-ear smile beams from the photograph as the 7-year-old stands next to his favorite basketball player, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant. As the 17-time NBA All Star towers over the child, there’s no doubt that this special moment is a wish come true.
Some 13 years later — through a Sports Marketing class project during the Fall 2015 semester — Centore ’16 (Cranston, R.I.) gave back to the local non-profit organization A Wish Come True by helping to arrange a lifetime memory for another child.
When Centore, who has cerebral palsy and Crohn’s disease, was almost 8 years old, his grandmother heard about A Wish Come True and told the staff about her grandson. Centore wanted to meet Bryant, and the organization was eager to grant his wish. When the Lakers traveled to Boston on April 5, 2002, to play the Celtics, Centore watched the Lakers practice before the game from courtside and then watched the NBA contest that followed. Afterward, Bryant and he met.
“I was afraid to talk to him,” recalled Centore “I was so star struck. He was the nicest guy ever. He signed so many autographs for me. I really liked his shoes, so I asked him where he got them. They had lost the game, but he was in an unbelievable mood and said this was the best part of his day.
“I was on cloud nine for a year,” Centore added. “I was really grateful to A Wish Come True, and I thought this project was a great opportunity to give back to them.”
In the Sports Marketing course taught by Dr. Daniel R. Horne, professor of marketing, students must apply their understanding of the sports industry to develop a sports-related project that meets several objectives, including raising at least $3,000 for a local charity. Students conceive an event, choose and foster strategic partnerships, secure sponsors and participants, attract media support, and produce the event while meeting financial, participation, and attendance goals.
Horne’s office walls are adorned with T-shirts from Sports Marketing projects. Over the last 17 years, his students have raised nearly $150,000 for 20-25 charities and nonprofits.
This year, four teams of five students raised more than $25,000 for local charities, with two groups raising $19,000 for A Wish Come True.
In completing this real-world project, students learn about the integrative nature of running a business, including accounting, finance, and managing people.
“They learn a lot about themselves and what they’re capable of,” said Horne, who is the associate dean of curriculum and faculty development in the Providence College School of Business. “They recognize one of the core values of a Providence College education, which is to help our neighbors.”
Horne strongly encourages students to choose a local charity that is willing to partner with them to plan their event and where they can develop a personal connection.
Centore, a marketing major, also felt strongly about selecting a local charity. When he told his teammates about his experience with A Wish Come True and they heard the staff’s presentation, they were sold on the idea of supporting the organization.
Centore and teammates Emily DiRenzo ’16 (Tuckahoe, N.Y.), Jack Pacor ’16 (Wrentham, Mass.), Kathryn Thifault ’16 (Woburn, Mass.), and Philip Calvanico ’16 (Flower Mound, Texas) organized a Bowling for Wishes afternoon event at Lang’s Bowlarama in Cranston for $15 per bowler. The team’s wish recipient was a 10-year-old boy, Noah Paul, who has a heart defect and Down’s syndrome and who loves bowling. His wish was to go to Disney World in Florida with his parents, brother, and sister.
The students made flyers to promote attendance and donations, and sent press releases to generate media coverage. They secured sponsors, who collectively provided enough funding to reach the $3,000 goal. However, Matt and his team were determined to fully fund Noah’s wish so they raffled PC athletics items and teamed up with August Merchandise for a silent auction of athletics memorabilia. Dayna Mancini ’04, a marketing graduate who works at Lang’s, helped the students plan the event.
More than 100 people attended, including Noah and his family.
“We had T-shirts that said ‘Team Noah’, and when we gave him one, he was so happy. Everyone loved meeting Noah and his family. It felt so good to see the look on his parents’ faces,” Centore said.
The event raised $4,700, and funds continued to trickle in from donors for a total of $5,400. Noah and his family recently returned from their trip.
Centore said the project tied in everything he had learned over the last four years and made it a real-world experience. “Matt was very determined and very hard working,” said Horne, who is also his academic adviser.
While this was not the first time a wish recipient has given back, Amy Simonini, operations manager at A Wish Come True, said, “Matt and his group did a phenomenal job. It was such a well-run event. The students from PC were respectful, helpful, caring, and especially considerate of our wish child, Noah, and his family. Matt really understood what it was like to have his wish come true.
“I definitely saw myself in him,” said Centore. “It felt so cool to be able to do that for somebody else.”
It is no surprise that Centore loves sports, given his family history. His grandfather, Tony Centore, is a local football legend, having coached for 64 years at various Rhode Island high schools. His father, Tom, is the head football coach at Cranston High School East.
While football is his favorite sport, baseball and basketball are close behind. Centore has served as a manager for the Friars’ men’s basketball team since freshman year. He will be recognized on Senior Night in March along with two other managers and two student-athletes.
Centore’s dream job is to work for the New England Patriots after graduation. There’s no doubt his many supporters hope his next big wish comes true.
TOP PHOTO: With their wish child, Noah Paul, Team Noah members are, from left, are Emily DiRenzo ’16, Philip Calvanico ’16, Matthew Centore ’16, Kathryn Thifault ’16, and Jack Pacor ’16.
MIDDLE: Matthew Centore, then 7 years old, with Kobe Bryant after a Lakers’ game in Boston in 2002.
BOTTOM: Noah Paul at the bowling benefit with his parents, Shannon and Keith, sister Paige, and brother Cole.