The Verona Connection To Sam Prince’s NFL Draft Dream

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On July 27, Verona’s Giants fans can watch the first public practice of the team’s first 2022 draft pick, Kayvon Thibodeaux. Turns out, there’s a big Verona connection to the pick, which Sam Prince announced at the NFL draft in April: Prince’s mother grew up here, as did the Make-A-Wish Foundation volunteer who helped make his wish come true.

But Debbie Tabs Prince and Mary Sellitto Curcio didn’t know that until well after the cheering for the draft was over in Las Vegas. And they didn’t just grow up in Verona: They spent their childhoods only a few houses apart on Ann Street and Cypress Avenue, over by F.N. Brown.

Sam Prince is a 19-year-old from North Caldwell. Born with a rare defect to the left side of his heart, he had a heart transplant when he was just eight years old. Doctors at the New York City hospital that performed the transplant told the Prince family then that he was eligible to apply to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. When it was created in 1980, it often fulfilled wishes for children with terminal diseases. Now, with more conditions treatable, the non-profit helps children ages 2 1/2 to 18 with critical illnesses that may be progressive, degenerative or malignant. “We tucked that into the back of our heads,” says Debbie Prince.

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In 2019, they finally did apply, and were assigned to Curcio, a Caldwell resident who has been volunteering for Make-A-Wish for 12 years, participating in more than 100 wish experiences. Make-A-Wish grants can seem simple on the surface, but they involve a great deal of paperwork and coordination behind the scenes. The foundation’s New Jersey affiliate has only 20 full-time employees, so it relies heavily on volunteers like Curcio to make things as easy as possible for children and their families.

There was a lot to coordinate for Sam Prince’s wish: A huge Giants fan from a family of Giants fans, he wanted to reveal the teams’ first-round pick at the pro football draft. Make-A-Wish secured the support of the Giants and the NFL–and then COVID hit. So instead of announcing the selection of Andrew Thomas from a stage in Las Vegas, Sam Prince interviewed him for his podcast. But Curcio stayed in touch with the Princes, kept their wish paperwork in order, and, after the surprise visit to Giants stadium in the video below, it finally came to pass. In April, the world got to see a kid with a big smile and a seemingly boundless capacity for sports broadcast banter whip an enormous crowd into cheers for a team they might not always want to love. “Sam is so enthusiastic that it is contagious,” says Curcio.

In June, Curcio popped by the Prince’s house to get a photo of Sam with his signed football for her records. Debbie Prince mentioned that Sam had gotten a scholarship to study sports communications–what else–at Rowan University. Curcio shared that she had been at Verona High School to announce her family’s scholarship. (Her father was Verona football coach and administrator Thomas J. Sellitto and she was VHS Class of 1979.) “Verona?” Debbie Prince recalls asking. They quickly discovered that they had lived in the same neighborhood, and had both attended F.N. Brown. “This was meant to be,” Debbie Prince told Curcio.

Though her family moved from town after her freshman year at VHS, Debbie Prince still considers Verona her home. “All my friends from back then are still my friends,” she says.

Michael Dominick, the assistant vice president of marketing and corporate alliances at Make-A-Wish New Jersey, says that he believes that 700 New Jersey children could be eligible for wishes every year, but to make that happen, he needs more volunteers like Curcio to help with outreach and fundraising. Volunteers are also needed at Give Kids the World, a resort complex near Disney World just for Make-A-Wish kids. Sam Prince did his community service for West Essex High School at the resort in May.

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Next week, Prince will be on hand at the Giants’ practice, interviewing players and whole-heartedly stoking enthusiasm for the coming season. And Debbie Prince will continue to tell anyone who will listen about the volunteer who made Sam’s wish happen. “I told Mary, ‘you are just magical’.”

Children with life-threatening conditions can be referred to Make-A-Wish by medical professionals or family members with detailed knowledge of the child’s medical situation. For more information, see its website.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected]

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