Play the Next Point

Interview with Tim Toy, Co-Founder of We Serve First

Sports Imports has the opportunity to work with so many inspiring customers, and we are thrilled to have the chance to share the story of Tim and Ellen Toy and their foundation We Serve First. Ellen, who was a volleyball coach for over 30 years, was diagnosed with gastric cancer in 2009. Six years after her diagnosis, and towards the end of her long journey with cancer, Ellen and Tim founded the We Serve first foundation to allow more athletes to play the sport Ellen dedicated her life to – volleyball. 

Tim and Ellen Toy and We Serve First have made an incredible impact in the Pittsburgh volleyball community. Each season the foundation sponsors athletes for the club season who otherwise would not have the means to play, and hosts their annual fundraiser “Pack the Park.” This past year, Tim and We Serve First built an outdoor grass court for the community and donated training equipment to several programs in the Pittsburgh area. Visit the We Serve First website to learn more about the foundation and how you can support the cause.

 

Sports Imports: Can you tell me a bit about why and how We Serve First was founded?

Tim Toy: We Serve First was founded in 2015, as my wife Ellen’s six year cancer journey was coming to an end. Ellen was a volleyball coach here in Western Pa for over 30 years. 

In that time she had impacted so many athletes in a positive way, by not only teaching the skills required to play volleyball, but also giving them life lessons the game so naturally teaches. She was an educator at heart, so this was natural for her. Knowing that her time was running short she wanted to establish something that would help kids with financial difficulties start or continue their club careers. She was the heart and soul of volleyball here in the Kiski Valley, and her story has reached out of our small town and out into the region, state, and across the country.

 

SI: How has We Serve First impacted your life? Impacted the lives of others? 

TT: Well, I’m not sure it was accidental, or it was her plan from the beginning, but WSF has allowed me to remain active in the volleyball community, keeping me too busy to stay down, when down seemed like the right direction. Meeting coaches and athletes, talking about the game, sharing her story. 

I see her in the eyes of the young women we have been fortunate to assist. Their enthusiasm and love of life and volleyball keep Ellen alive in a small way. All of our athletes have worked hard with the opportunity they have been given, and some of them have even earned scholarships.. Either way, the goal is to keep kids on the court despite financial hardships. I’ll say that has had a lasting impact on me too. It just feels good to help.

 

SI: How can people and/or volleyball teams get involved? 

TT: In the past we have relied mostly on donations from our community. Ellen’s story of courage continues to touch the hearts of the volleyball world, especially locally, where we do most of our giving. Every year we do a “Day of Giving” and our wonderful friends respond. 

This year we have partnered with Athletes Unlimited, and their charitable wing “Athlete’s Causes”. Erin Fairs picked We Serve First as her cause, and has picked up the torch expanding our visibility. We Serve First will be eligible for half of Erin’s season ending bonus! She is crushing it right now, and is currently in 9th place going into week four(of five).   

The other side of that is the serendipity by which we usually find athletes to support. Amazing stories of happenstance that often make me wonder if it’s somehow guided. So, if there is someone out there who might just be reading this and be in need of a little boost, We Serve First will be ready to lend a hand as best we can! It won’t surprise me at all! 

 

SI: Have you considered expanding your fundraising efforts through tournaments or similar events? 

TT: Yes! With the new grass court here in Vandergrift, we will be running open “gym” and pick up nights and we are hoping that once folks have been to the park to play, they will be more excited about possible summer tournaments. 

Last year we held the first “Pack the Park” match, with our own Kiski Cavaliers facing the Norwin Knights. We believe it was the first sanctioned outdoor high school match in Pennsylvania. The crowd was amazing! The atmosphere was electric. We have already scheduled another one for August 29th. We didn’t make much money on it last year, but we learned a lot, and this year we’ll add more and hopefully at least break even!

 

SI: You recently built a grass court in your hometown, do you have plans to do more similar projects in the future? 

TT: Yes! The court in Kennedy Park was hopefully just the first! It is literally in the shadow of the home Ellen and I raised our children, and part of the park we both grew up playing in. Now I live in Pittsburgh, and I’d love to build a court for the kids in the city to enjoy. Because the pandemic shut down some club seasons we also got involved locally with some equipment purchases besides the grass court. We bought five coaches hitting boxes, and the new Trainer Plus for local high school programs. 

 

SI: Your wife Ellen seems like she was a wonderful, courageous person. Do you have any advice for people facing similar challenges in their lives? 

TT: I think the thing I keep coming back to is the lesson volleyball teaches the best. Play it a point at a time. Take stock in what went well, correct what errors you made and move to the next point. 

Our story contains so much heartache, so much loss. Ellen showed us how to keep getting up. She faced cancer three times and each time she responded to it by living her best life. During the time she battled cancer, we lost an amazing Assistant Coach, Jaime Vick-Moran, and a beautiful young athlete named Jenna Prusia. These losses, combined with her own difficult diagnosis would have floored the most hearty among us. She knew she was responsible for keeping the team she coached focused and upbeat. She stood in front of team meetings and delivered the worst news with courage and dignity and helped the kids believe that better days were ahead. She will be remembered as much for the way she delivered hugs to those who needed them as she will be for any skill she might have taught, and she taught those well too. Ellen Toy was a once in a lifetime gift to all who knew her, and the best example of resilience that I will ever see. Her advice would very simply be “play the next point”.

 

Sports Imports is proud to work with organizations like We Serve First, and amazing customers like Tim Toy. To get involved or support We Serve First, visit JamTheGym.com.