Fairfield Warde High School senior Giacomo Brancato and Foran High School graduate Danni Kemp have been selected as the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance Bob Casey Courage Award winners.
They will be honored at the 76th Gold Key Dinner on April 30 at the Aqua Turf Club in Southington.
Brancato was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma in 2014, but returned to the Fairfield Warde baseball team last spring to help lead his team to the Class LL championship game. A year after he was in a hospital bed receiving treatment, Brancato hit a three-run home run in a loss to Amity.
Kemp, a 2015 graduate of Foran in Milford, was diagnosed with a rare, inoperable brain tumor this past summer while playing softball with the Stratford Brakettes. In high school, she was diagnosed with kidney cancer, which is now in remission. Kemp was a three-sport athlete at Foran and an All-State softball player in 2015. She played softball her freshman year at Stony Brook in 2016.
The award is given in the memory of Bob Casey the late sportswriter of the New Haven Register and honors those who have overcome adversity.
Defensive end Dwight Freeney of the Atlanta Falcons, five-time Olympic archer Butch Johnson, Farmington boys soccer coach Steve Waters and former Cheshire swim coach Ed Aston will receive Gold Keys at the dinner.
Tickets to the Gold Key Dinner, which begins at 4 p.m., are $75 and can be purchased by contacting dinner chairman Tim Jensen of Patch Media Corp. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-394-5091; or CSWA President Matthew Conyers of The Hartford Courant at 860-874-4166, or email@example.com. Tickets can also be obtained by mailing a check to the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance, P.O. Box 70, Unionville, CT, 06085. Proceeds benefit the Alliance’s Bohdan Kolinsky Memorial Sports Journalism Scholarship.
A look at Brancato and Kemp:
In 2014, Giacomo Brancato, a basketball and baseball standout at Fairfield Warde High School, was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. He was 16.
After learning of the condition two games into the basketball season, Brancato missed the remainder of the basketball season and the entire baseball season as he underwent treatment.
In June 2015, Brancato’s cancer was in remission after six major chemotherapy sessions and numerous alternative medicine treatments.
Brancato returned to successfully play basketball (where he was named first team All-FCIAC) and baseball during the 2015-2016 school year.
Brancato helped Fairfield Warde advance to the Class LL baseball final and hit a three-run game-tying home run in the sixth inning.
Amity High eventually won the final 4-3 at Palmer Field in Middletown, but Brancato’s home run came exactly a year after he had been in a hospital bed following his latest round of chemo.
Brancato credits the Connecticut Challenge’s Center for Survivorship in Southport as playing a crucial role in his recovery. In support of Connecticut Challenge, Brancato was featured in a 2015 video to promote the non-profit organization’s annual bike ride fundraiser.
Giacomo has committed to play Division 1 college baseball at Fairfield University and scored his 1,000 point for the basketball team earlier this season.
Last July, Danni Kemp, who graduated from Foran in Milford in 2015, was hit in the head with a pitch while playing softball for the Stratford Brakettes.
After testing for a concussion, doctors discovered Kemp had an inoperable brain tumor.
The rare tumor, which is called a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, can’t be removed because of its location in the pons region of her brain.
Kemp missed the fall semester at Stony Brook, where she played softball her freshman year, to undergo radiation treatment.
She started treatments for the tumor in August at Yale-New Haven Hospital. In December, Kemp traveled to Germany for a series of treatments.
Her teammates at Stony Brook have dedicated the Spring season to Kemp.
Kemp’s fight has caught the attention of the softball community. Two-time Olympic pitcher Jennie Finch tweeted about Kemp last year and other athletes and schools have held fundraisers to help Kemp in her battle. On twitter, the hashtags #DanniStrong and #DK23 have been used by teammates at Stony Brook and other America East Conference softball programs.
The local community has also reached out, raising considerable funds for the Kemp family.
In high school, Kemp was diagnosed with kidney cancer, which is now in remission.
At Foran from 2011-2015, Kemp was a standout for the girls softball team, playing catcher and then shortstop. She was selected to the All-State team in 2015.
Kemp played volleyball and basketball for two years, but stopped playing her junior year to focus on softball.
Last spring, she played second base for Stony Brook.
Kemp was a recipient of the Fairfield County Sports Commissions Chelsea Cohen Award for her inspirational battle and strength in overcoming life-altering obstacles.