COMMENTARY | If you have been lucky enough to attend a Boston Celtics game when Lil Phunk, the ridiculously talented all-kids hip-hop group, performs at halftime or during an extended timeout, then you have truly seen something special. Not only is Lil Phunk definitely the most entertaining performance I have seen at an NBA arena, it’s an example of one of those rare moments when the world of sports collides with a cause that makes a significant impact on the lives of real people struggling with a life-changing illness.
Kids dancing for kids
Lil Phunk, a project of Phunk Phenomenon Dance Complex, was started by former New England Patriots cheerleader Reia Briggs-Connor and her husband Rick Connor, an Everett, Massachusetts police officer, in 2004. Since then, they are a frequent performer at Celtics basketball games and have danced for NCAA basketball teams, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Radio Disney and at many other venues as well. And although kids breakdancing and poppin’ and lockin’ may be what catches your attention, the real motivation behind the dance group is their “Hip-Hop for Hope” campaign, an effort to help spread the word about Sanfilippo syndrome, a rare hereditary disorder that occurs in 1 in every 70,000 births.
Sanfilippo syndrome is a progressive disorder that doesn’t appear at first in children who have it, but as the degenerative effects of the syndrome become worse, a child diagnosed with the condition will inevitably lose the ability to function normally. They eventually are unable to eat or walk, and many kids experience hearing loss, seizures, partial paralysis and numerous other horrific conditions. Making matters even worse, the average life expectancy for a child with Sanfilippo is only between 10 and 20 years.
Jared’s fight and the birth of a movement
When Reia Briggs-Connor and Rick Connor learned that their own child Jared was diagnosed with Sanfilippo syndrome, they knew they couldn’t stand idly by while this incurable condition continued to be unsuspectingly spread to others. Instead, they launched “Jared’s Fight” and “Hip-Hop for Hope” to help raise funds for awareness of Sanfilippo and for research that may someday lead to a cure.
As Jill Patz, mother of Lil Phunk dancer Nathan Patz, age 12, explained in a recent interview, the dance crew provides so much more than an opportunity to show off talent and perform in front of thousands of people.
“My son loves to dance for this team. He has made wonderful friendships, it has challenged his dance skills and most of all, he has gained so much confidence and self-esteem from this experience,” Patz said.
“Our mission and goal as Phunk Phenomenon members, dancers and teachers is to raise as much awareness as we can about the rare disease.”
They are worth your attention
Inspired by the dance crew’s director Briggs-Connor and her coaching staff, the 35-member Lil Phunk dominates the spotlight everywhere it performs, often donning their “Hip-Hop for Hope” t-shirts and spreading the word about Sanfilippo syndrome to jaw-dropped audiences.
Lil Phunk represents everything that’s great about sports: passion, talent, athleticism and community. Next time you happen to be at the TD Garden for a Celtics game, hold off on the nachos and soda and stick around to watch kids blow your mind performing dance moves most of us didn’t even know existed; you won’t just be supporting talented young dancers, you will be applauding a great cause.
Watch Lil Phunk perform at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Jan. 22, 2013 at a Providence College Friars NCAA basketball game.
Interested in learning more? Visit the websites of Team Sanfilippo and Jared’s Fight.
Justin Haskins is a New England native and a freelance journalist. He has been obsessively following the NBA and Boston professional sports for 10 years and has been published in numerous online publications and websites. Connect with me on Twitter @TheNewRevere or by e-mail at THATcelticsguy@gmail.com