Playing Heaven's Game: Brother's Foundation Battles Cancer

Feb 13, 2019 – By: Megan Allen, Communications Specialist

"I am so lucky." 

Four words I did not expect to hear from Chris Dombroski, Miami-Ohio, a young man who recently lost his father to cancer. You wouldn't think four words could hit you so hard and give you an immediate sense for who someone is... but let me tell you... they do when you're talking to Chris. 

After his father, John Dombroski, passed away in March 2018 from stage four colon cancer, Chris created the Heaven's Game Foundation, determined to make something out of the hand his family was dealt and ultimately carry on his father's passion for looking beyond himself and helping others. 

And in speaking with him in the boardroom in the Delta Sigma Pi Central Office, determined to learn as much about this young man and this life-changing event that happened merely months before, I left with a sense that Dombroski truly would change lives, including mine. 

Chris describes his father as humble, caring and a lover of sports. "He taught me to be who I am," he proudly described while telling me about his father. He described John's early career with Chiquita Brands International, a position that gave him the opportunity to spend time in Central America where the bananas were grown, and meet the love of his life, Wendi, with whom he shared three children, Chris, his little brother Tyler and older sister Caitlin. During his time in Central America, Chris recalls his father was given a Christmas bonus, which he gave (without hesitation) to a local Honduran worker. "That is the essence of my dad." Even during the last days of his fight with cancer, Chris remembers his father encouraging him to not give up on pledging Delta Sigma Pi. "He couldn't have been more right. I was like, 'Thanks, Dad.'"

Even in his darkest hour, John Dombroski was able to be a light in the lives of his two sons (Chris and his younger brother Tyler, pictured left). His courage in his battle against cancer is only matched by his love for others, and is one of the pillars of Heaven's Game.

"I want to blow the doors off this thing," is one of the first things Chris told me about Heaven's Game Foundation. The idea began last summer after his father's funeral, while working with a friend at a golf course near his home in southwest Ohio. He recalls the owner discussing charities and how the course offered discounted rates for fundraising events. And what started as the idea for a golf outing, with proceeds benefitting cancer research, turned into the goal of operating a full-fledged foundation. Coming up with a name was no easy task. Until one day, it was as if John named it himself. While his dad was sick, Chris recalled traveling home on weekends to spend time with him. At the time, while in Hospice, John started to become disoriented and frequently mentioned a game, often asking his wife, "When are we going to the game?" Chris and his family assumed he was referring to his little brother's first sports scrimmage. After his passing, Chris's mom began reading a collection of stories called Final Gifts to help those coping with the loss of a loved one. One story was about a young woman who also died from cancer. Before her passing, she referenced a map, confusing her parents, who thought she meant a literal map. They soon came to realize, however, that she was talking about a map to heaven. Chris received a phone call from his mom, amazed by this new revelation, that his father wasn't discussing a sports game, but his final game - in heaven. Heaven's Game. 

As a junior marketing major in Miami University's Farmer School of Business, a top-ranked business school in the country, Chris is a master of time management. He told me time again, he wants this organization to be something his father would look down on and be proud of. "Everything we are as a foundation is because of who he was." So his first step to success was arranging his class schedule to dedicate Tuesdays and Thursdays solely to Heaven's Game. He also set up a GoFundMe, shared at first with local community members to build momentum, pay initial fees, etc. He also decided to partner with the V Foundation for Cancer Research, his beneficiary foundation created by ESPN and legendary basketball coach Jim Valvano to achieve victory over cancer. "They care about what I'm doing." With a proven track record of extraordinary honesty and integrity in donating funds to those directly who need cancer treatment, Chris confidently believes he made the right decision while taking his mom's advice to "Just pick someone who is going to use it the right way." One of the things that most impressed me while discussing Heaven's Game with Chris is his advisory board. In the very beginning, Dombroski reached out to those he knew he could trust most, to create a board of people to guide him in decisions about the Foundation. Consisting of his close family members, a long-time friend from Ohio University, a few of John's business-minded friends (a local pizza franchise owner and financial company owner) and other key mentors, the advisory board guides him in networking, minimizing risk, filing with the state, filing tax forms, setting up an official bank account and much more. To Chris, what makes the Foundation most special are the number of young professionals/college students who are a driving force in the success of Heaven's Game. "They're not in it for money, or acknowledgement, but because they truly believe in what we are doing." 

During several hours he spent at the Central Office completely enamored with its history and artifacts, we discussed the great impact Delta Sigma Pi has had on him, and his foundation. While pledging the Fraternity, having only briefly met members of the Alpha Upsilon chapter, Chris knew immediately what brotherhood meant, even during the darkest of times. He remembers though his father's funeral occurred during spring break, people lined around the funeral home waiting almost two hours to see the Dombroski's. "That's the type of person he was," Chris told me, smiling. And much to his surprise, there in line, stood three brothers he had just recently met - Abby Lokai, Megan Varabkanich and Anastasia McDaniel. He paused a second, "They'll never know how much that meant to me." Weeks after meeting Chris, there in the Central Office's boardroom sit Megan and Abby with me. When asked their perspective on supporting Chris, Megan immediately tells me, "There was no other thought in my head. He is such a light. You're always going to leave a conversation with him smiling. When things happen, life can get you down, but that's not how he projects it." Adding to that, Abby describes how much the chapter appreciates Chris, "It's something I think a lot of us admire. The littlest things can get under our skin, but he can put on a smile. He cares for us more than he does for himself. He will sacrifice anything for the good of another." Knowing Abby and Megan were there for him and his family from the start, Chris asked each of them to be members of Heaven's Game as social media managers. "I was very surprised when he first asked me about it," said Megan. "I was honored to have him consider giving us the opportunity. I think we're both very passionate and it helps that we're interested in that kind of work, especially doing something for Chris." 

Dombroski is pictured with Abby Lokai (left) and Megan Varabkanich who co-run the social media accounts for Heaven's Game, creating content, developing promotional materials and providing positive messages and campaigns. 

In less than a year, Heaven's Game has gone from a wonderful idea to something beyond. Recently, the Foundation partnered with Ohio State's Nu Chapter as the beneficiary of their "Hoops for Hope" basketball tournament, which raised almost $1,000 for Heaven's Game. A golf outing at the prestigious TPC Rivers Bend course is also in the works for April to honor Chris and his father's many golf outings together. His Tuesdays and Thursdays are now spent securing sponsors for the event and finalizing plans. In the future, Dombroski also hopes to annually contribute a scholarship to the Loveland (OH) High School (his alma mater) to honor his father's dedication to education. "Our Foundation is driven by youth," Chris told me. "I feel this is incredibly special as everyone who is involved is motivated solely by helping others battling cancer. Not money, not notoriety, just helping others," a concept he hopes to continue well into the future. When asked where he would like to see Heaven's Game in ten years, Chris told me, "I would love to work a professional job and do this as well. I hope it grows to be self-sustaining, and something I can pass down to my children. I want this to be something my dad would be proud of. I know I'll outwork anybody." And it isn't just the funds raised that is helping save lives. Recently while grocery shopping, Chris's mother Wendi was approached by a man who lived in her community, telling her that after hearing John's story he immediately scheduled a colonoscopy as he had not been in years, only to find precancerous polyps. Having the opportunity to have them removed before turning into cancer, the awareness around John's story saved his life, a beautiful chapter from a tragic story, and one of many lives I believe Heaven's Game will save. Chris emphasizes that ultimately, the goal of Heaven's Game is to create more stories such as this and at the end of the day, it's about saving lives through being educated, vigilant, pre-screening and more (all things the Foundation hopes to provide for others). 

Shaking Chris's hand on the front steps of the national headquarters, he must have thanked me ten times for this opportunity. What I found funny - I should be the one really thanking him. Not just for the honor of sharing his incredible story with brothers across the country, but for reminding me of what truly matters. 

To learn more about Heaven's Game Foundation: 

  • Deltasig Spotlight