By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer
In the aftermath of the Cleveland Cavaliers Game 7 win June 19, United Way of Greater Cleveland’s staff is being swept up in the excitement — donning jerseys and T-shirts, decorating cubicles and discussing game play and the city’s celebration plans.
And while many are expressing surprise at the Cavaliers’ 93-89 win against Oakland, Calif.’s Golden State Warriors; everyone is in agreement the win means a lot to Cleveland.
“It’s important because sports in Cleveland are something that brings us together, no matter who you are or where you’re from — it’s unifying across all demographics,” said Andrew Katusin, program manager for community impact at United Way of Greater Cleveland
His sentiments were echoed by many of his coworkers, including resource development assistant Andrea Harris.
“That game meant everything to everybody,” she said. “We were overdue for that. It was that game last night that was LeBron’s appreciation for the fans … [it was] closure for LeBron, he’s officially said “‘I’m sorry.’”
“Hopefully the jinx has been lifted,” added Alan Bedingfield, relationship manager. “The city has kind of completed its transformation, in the last four to five years we’ve been building up downtown — [we’ve] turned the corner.”
Bedingfield expressed his disbelief, saying he didn’t believe the Cavaliers had won until the last 10 seconds of the game. This is also being felt throughout the city, and in United Way of Greater Cleveland’s office.
“It feels unreal,” Nada Karaja, pledge accounting specialist, said. “The 4th quarter was a little shaky, [but] as soon as we knew that we won, it felt like the drought was over.”
For many, the end of the “drought” was long overdue. Having been a fan for the past 52 years, Jeffrey Miles, collections manager at United Way of Greater Cleveland, didn’t expect Cleveland’s “reign” to come anytime soon. He remembers attending the first Cavaliers game at its old arena, and has watched its rise and fall over the years.
“I’m excited, happy,” Miles said. “It’s been a long time. After 52 years, you don’t expect to win — you hope they do, but you don’t get overly excited, unlike these youngsters.”
While Taylor Holan may not have 52 years of Cleveland loyalty under her belt, her love of Cleveland sports was instilled at an early age by her father, a Cleveland fan his whole life. While the win was important to her on a personal note, she said it also affects United Way of Greater Cleveland’s work.
“When people are happy and excited and feeling like the city is going somewhere, it makes it easier to talk about our work,” Holan said. “Cleveland is a big city, but it feels like a small town when it comes to sports … It’s an amazing thing and I feel extremely lucky to have been born here.”
Katie Foster, relationship manager at United Way of Greater Cleveland agrees that, as a sports fan, she is happy for her city, but also the chance to highlight United Way’s work.
“It’s a page-turner, it changes the story of sadness and [hope] to accomplishment,” Foster said. “[United Way of Greater Cleveland] works so hard to make our community a better place … It shows us what we’ve done and still have to do in such a cool way.”
Nancy Mendez, director of community impact operations, has been waiting for a win for the city, while working toward its rebirth. Working to impact the city on a social and economic level, the Cleveland pride the Cavaliers championship has brought, has renewed energy in the city.
“When something like this happens, it changes the culture, the environment, where we believe,” Mendez said. “You take some of that hope that we brought a championship to Cleveland and you can translate that hope and energy into rebuilding this city.”