December 7, 2018 9:35:57 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State men's basketball team will go to Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, this weekend for a neutral court game against Clemson. It will be the No. 22 Bulldogs' first chance at a team currently in the top 40 Ken Pomeroy's ratings and its final true neutral court game of the regular season.
Saturday afternoon's game will do more than boost the NCAA tournament resume of the winner. It will benefit the families of 9/11 victims.
MSU's game against Clemson (6-2) is one of two games in the Never Forget Tribute Classic, which raises money for the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund, which provides college educations for the children of 9/11 victims. Some of them will be in attendance when MSU (7-1) battles Clemson 3 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2).
"These poor kids are left fatherless. It's a good thing that this money is going to," MSU coach Ben Howland said.
As of early November, the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund had awarded $154.5 million to over 3,500 children of 9/11 victims going to college, all of it based on financial need. The fund began with Bill Clinton and Bob Dole traveling around the country to fundraise $100 million immediately after the attacks, and donors have continued to come in the years since.
Fundraising opportunities such as this one help keep the fund going, as it did for the children of Frank Palombo. Palombo and his wife had 10 children: Palombo was a firefighter who died on 9/11, and his wife died of cancer four years later.
According to Rhianna Quinn Roddy, the executive director of the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund, the fund has put eight of the Palombo children through college and will do the same for the final two.
In November, she travelled to Starkville to speak to the Bulldogs.
"It's a thank you visit, telling them thank you for playing for our kids," Roddy told The Dispatch. "These kids have lost so much: not only have they lost a parent or both parents, but they've lost a lifetime of memories, a salary coming to them. If we can help these kids, they appreciate it so much. Some of the kids are even studying foreign relations or international relations or international law, studying Arabic."
The event gives MSU more than the opportunity to generate money for the fund: it gets some interactions with the people the fund benefits. The fund receives 100 tickets to each game -- Florida State and UConn are also played each other in this event -- and members of the Fire Department of New York and the New York Police Department come to the game. Roddy described a moment in which some of the fund's beneficiaries unfurl an American flag over the court in pregame.
Howland has some personal experience with 9/11. He was the head coach at Pitt at the time and had a player (Brandon Knight) and an assistant coach (Barry Rohrssen) who lost over a dozen former classmates each in the attack. He said he'll never forget the experience of driving to New York a couple of days later for recruiting.
With that experience and Roddy's speech in mind, the Bulldogs will be thankful to participate in such an event.
"It's a great way for us to play the game we love and also give back, hang out with the families that have lost so much," MSU senior forward Aric Holman said. "What she was trying to explain to us is this is an opportunity to raise money for those who were affected by the 9/11 situation.
"There are kids just like me that want to be in my situation, go to college and get a degree."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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