Laconia Mayor Ed Engler, center, poses with Liz Rosenfeld and Bob Dassatti at a City Council meeting last month after honoring them as the 2018 recipients of the Debra Bieniarz Memorial Award. (File photo by Rick Green/The Laconia Daily Sun)

LACONIA — When Bob Dassatti was a basketball coach, his influence helped mold his athletes “into the individuals they are today. Under his guidance, they learned passion, commitment, determination and how to always have each other’s backs at a crucial time in their young lives.”

Laconia Mayor Ed Engler offered those comments during the ceremony to announce the winners of the 2018 Debra Bieniarz Memorial Award, which recognizes individuals who have given to local young people.

Dassatti, who served on the Laconia School Board, founded a local AAU basketball program and coached for the Lou Athanas Youth Basketball League, now finds himself at a crucial time in his own life, and he’s finding out that the local community does, indeed, have his back.

Dassatti has been battling colon cancer for four years. The disease first appeared in 2014, and treatment seemed to be successful. He was clear of cancer for a little over a year. Then a checkup found a different form of cancer in his colon.

When Dassatti was planning to head to Houston for treatment, his son, Matt, discussed with his fiance, Katelyn Doherty, his wish that he could do something to help.

She had an idea. How about a basketball tournament?

“We thought it would be the perfect idea,” Matt said. And so was born the idea that produced "Ballin’ 4 Big Bob," a three-on-three tournament that will be held Jan. 19 at the Laconia High School gymnasium.

Matt said there was a bit of a learning curve to putting on the event.

“My first thought was, ‘Well, I have no idea how to do this,’” he said. “Event planning, that’s not my specialty.” So, he leaned on family members – his in-laws-to-be were a big help – and friends who have more experience. In total, more than a dozen people jumped on board to help put on the event.

Even his father lent some of his expertise, Matt said, which wasn’t the reaction he was expecting when he first brought up the idea of a event to benefit him.

“We were expecting some resistance but he liked the idea,” Matt said. “He gave me some advice right out of the gate.”

It’s not just family and friends who liked the idea. Basketball players have also responded, with registrations quickly on the rise. As of Monday, 25 teams had registered, with most of those coming within the previous several days.

“So it’s all of a sudden just started exploding,” Matt said.

Also as of Monday, he was halfway to his goal of 10 gold-level sponsors and had one platinum sponsor, Franklin Savings Bank.

Teams will compete in three divisions: middle school, high school and adult. There will be further divisions for age, grade or gender based on how many teams register. The cost for each team is $30. Further fundraising activities will include a bake sale, concessions and a T-shirt sale at the event, as well as a silent auction.

More information can be found at the Facebook page “Ballin’ 4 Big Bob Tournament for Hope,” or by contacting Matt at

Matt said it’s been humbling to see the community rally behind his father.

“Have you seen 'It’s a Wonderful Life?' It’s been like the ending of that. How many people want to support him after he supported them so much, I still can’t get over it,” he said.

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