Big things often have small beginnings. But when Michael Fiorica, a junior at Canisius High School, began to joke around with his friends about what would happen if certain teachers were to face off in an arm-wrestling match, he assumed nothing more would come of it.
“I had no idea that it would turn into anything productive; we just thought that it was funny at the time,” Michael said.
He did know that students found the idea of two of their teachers arm-wrestling each other very amusing. To test the waters, he made a Facebook group and used the polling feature to run a mini-tournament. There was a bracket for the women’s and men’s divisions, and the outcomes were based purely on student opinion. The teacher who received more votes in a given match would advance to the next imaginary round. He was shocked by how much traffic the tournament page received; students were very passionate about which teachers would win these make-believe bouts.
It seemed like Michael wasn’t the only one who had entertained this idea before. In fact, the test run received so much attention that he realized there was an opportunity for him to turn it into something more, something that could even help others.
“I was a patient at BryLin hospital over the summer for a few weeks, and I knew that they were really in need of funds,” Michael said.
BryLin is on Delaware Avenue, a minute or so away from Canisius High School. Michael thought that perhaps he could spin the arm-wrestling idea to help out the hospital. He went to the administration at Canisius to see if he could turn his imaginary arm-wrestling tournament into a reality in order to raise money for the hospital. In keeping with Canisius High School’s motto of “Men For Others,” he was given the green light to do what he could to implement his idea and raise money.
“Although the administration was initially hesitant to support such a unique idea, they were very responsive once I explained my story to them,” Michael said.
But first, he needed to get as many teachers on board as he could for the tournament. Michael and his friends spoke with all of the faculty and staff at Canisius, explaining what they were doing and asking them to participate. One of them was Dave Isbrandt, a guidance counselor at Canisius who helped to referee the tournament.
“Michael caught me off guard when he asked me, yet at the same time I smiled and thought ‘what a neat and creative thing to do,’ ” Isbrandt said.
“I thought it was an amazing undertaking for a student to promote and get the entire community behind such a good cause,” Isbrandt added. “It really became a collective effort at Canisius.”
Michael received many strange looks and was often asked if he was joking, but for the most part the teachers were very receptive to the idea and willing to compete for the cause.
“Over 60 faculty and staff members participated or helped organize the tournament,” Michael said. “Mr. [Thomas] Coppola, our director of student activities, was especially helpful,” Michael said.
They began to advertise the event as the “Brawl for Brylin.” The rules of the tournament were simple: Two teachers would meet in the guidance office to face off in a best-of-three arm-wrestling match. To raise money for the hospital, students were charged an admission fee to view the matches. Inevitably, the room was jampacked, standing-room only, with students and administrators craning their necks to see the two teachers grapple over a desk.
“During one of the matches, there wasn’t even room for everyone in the office,” Michael said.
Students were also able to place bets on the teachers they thought were most likely to win, raising more money and competing for prizes in the process.
Over the course of a month and a half, Michael organized and facilitated matches for all of the faculty and staff involved in the tournament. Between the men’s and women’s brackets, there was a lot of arm-wrestling that needed to be done around many complicated schedules.
The matches were often amusing, and the students found it interesting to watching teachers square off in a purely physical and non-academic environment.
“It was unusual to see them in that kind of setting because you never think of them competing against one another or doing anything athletic,” said Josh Veronica, a junior at Canisius.
A crowd of cheering students topped off the bizarre spectacles that went on in the guidance office.
“I was really amazed by the incredible student support for the tournament,” Michael said. “All the kids were really excited to see the teachers out of their element, competing against each other.”
Even students who didn’t attend the matches were interested to view videos of the particularly competitive matches.
The tournament culminated in a championship event, which was held in the auditorium to accommodate more students.
In the end, the Brawl for BryLin raised about $2,500 for the hospital.
Staci Shick, a math teacher at Canisius who competed in the tournament, said, “In the 11 years that I have been at Canisius High School, this was the first arm-wrestling tournament, and I thought it was a very creative idea. I liked that it was original.”
Michael was pleased with how smoothly the tournament ran, and even more excited with how much money it was able to raise.
“Ultimately, I couldn’t have been happier with the tournament,” he said. “There were some times when organizing got difficult, but if some of the money raised buys a game or a new TV or anything that makes a child’s time in the hospital a little more bearable, then it will all have been worth it.”
Will Deuschle is a junior at Canisius High School.