AUGUSTA — A November basketball tournament to benefit the young survivors of fatal domestic violence got a boost Thursday from Gov. Paul LePage, and its organizer says this could be its biggest year yet.
The fifth Taylor Tip-Off Tournament, organized by Mark LeClerc of Fayette, founder of the Maine Athletic Club, will be held Nov. 10 at gyms in Falmouth and Waterville. LePage appeared at a press conference at the Kennebec Valley YMCA in Augusta on Thursday ahead of the event.
Over the years, all proceeds have been donated to grandparents raising nine children from four families impacted by domestic violence in Winslow, New Gloucester, Westbrook and Dennysville.
LePage, a domestic violence survivor who has said he was beaten as a child by his father, has made strengthening domestic violence laws a hallmark of his administration.
“Frankly, it will not stop until we, the men, step up and stamp it out,” LePage said.
The tournament was started in 2009, after Kenneth Taylor, an assistant coach of his daughter Kaylee’s Maine Swish AAU basketball team, murdered his wife in their Westbrook condo before killing himself. Their daughters, Kaylee, then 14, and Kiana, 12, found their parents’ bodies.
There was no life insurance or savings account to help the girls, so the first two years of the tournament benefited the Taylors, who were raised afterward by their older sister, Jennifer York.
But after that, the Taylors didn’t need the money. The tournament continued, and it has since benefited other affected families.
Over the years, LeClerc said the tournament has raised approximately $60,000 for children who have lost parents to acts of domestic violence, and this year alone could yield more than $30,000 because of increased promotion.
LeClerc said the family of Sarah and Nathaniel Gordon have been able to renovate their home to better accommodate the Gordons’ two kids, who witnessed their mother’s 2011 murder in Winslow at their father’s hand. They were then 8 and 9. Their father later shot himself.
Mark Gerber of New Gloucester heads another family who has received help.
He and his wife, Patricia, are raising the four young children of Renee Sandora, who was killed along with her friend Trevor Mills by her boyfriend, Joel Hayden, in 2011, as their seven-year-old son watched.
On Thursday, the now-nine-year-old boy, who testified against his father before Hayden got two life sentences, was shooting around in the YMCA gym.
Gerber said so far, the money has allowed him and his wife to establish college funds for the kids.”We’ve got all kinds of people that are on our side supporting us,” he said. “They see these four kids and they understand why, why we do what we do.”
Politics briefly entered the discussion as LePage, while talking to media, edged off a tracker from the Maine Democratic Party whose job it is to follow the governor to events and film him. LePage, a Republican, asked him to “back off” as he filmed him, saying Thursday was a “solemn day and you guys have no character.”
In December, LePage initially refused to meet with newly elected Democratic leadership after a party tracker filmed him at public events even after the election. But after addressing media on Thursday, LePage spoke one-on-one with children and grandparents.
Afterward, the governor said his advice to them was to “never forget, but move on. Embrace it and move on. Use it as a positive thing, not a negative thing.”
“There are three issues that are important to me: domestic violence, homelessness and mental illness,” LePage said. “Other than that, the rest of it is for you guys, not me.”
Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:firstname.lastname@example.org