The following article appears in the Fall 2017 edition of NABC Time-Out Magazine. To view the entire Fall 2017 issue, click here.
Colorful. Charismatic. Cancer.
If those three words were used in a game of what doesn’t belong and why, the answer would seem like a slam-dunk.
Twenty-five years ago, those three words were significant factors in the founding of Coaches vs. Cancer, a collaboration between the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC).
It happened when former basketball player Jerry Quick, then a director for the ACS in Missouri, approached University of Missouri head coach Norm Stewart with an idea. The colorful and charismatic Stewart, who had survived a bout with colon cancer, challenged Mizzou fans to pledge a dollar amount for every three-point basket made by his team during the season for the fight against cancer.
The plan was launched in 1991 and not long after, Stewart got other Missouri schools involved and soon found many using the campaign on their campuses. The donations for that first year totaled more than $300,000.
With Stewart leading the charge, more and more schools nationwide began participating. The veteran coach then presented the idea of taking this “Three-Point Attack” nationwide to the NABC, which had recently relocated to Overland Park, Kansas, leading to the creation of Coaches vs. Cancer.
“Immediately, I think it was a cause that we as coaches agreed was the charity of choice,” said NABC Deputy Executive Director Reggie Minton. “There were a couple of options but this one was brought by one of our own, Norm Stewart, who was fighting the battle. It’s more personal and a lot easier to galvanize coaches to join the fight.”
“The more you learned and thought about cancer, it was personalized. Everybody we know has been touched in some fashion or form – family, friend, someone.”
American Cancer Society
“Coaches vs. Cancer began as a local effort to rally coaches around defeating our common enemy - cancer. As we celebrate Coaches vs. Cancer’s 25th anniversary with the tipoff of the 2017-18 season, the program has become a national movement of coaches uniting alongside fans, students, and communities to attack cancer from every angle, raising over $110 million to date,” said Sharon Byers, chief development and marketing officer for the American Cancer Society.
“Coaches vs. Cancer will continue its critical role helping the American Cancer Society save lives and lead the fight against cancer. Every coach, every fan, every dollar raised gets us closer to our ultimate goal of defeating this disease forever.”
Throughout its history, Coaches vs. Cancer has been guided with passionate, dedicated and innovative leaders.
Jim Satalin, a former head coach at Duquesne and St. Bonaventure, joined the program as a regional director in 1995 and became the national director of the program in 1999 until his retirement in 2014.
“The advantage I had was that I knew all of the coaches. It’s a lot easier to meet someone face-to-face or get them on the phone that way,” Satalin said. “It is very important to have the NABC as a partner and Coaches vs. Cancer is the charity of choice.”
Among Satalin’s great strengths was taking an idea or initiative that was successful in one part of the country and nurturing its development from coast-to-coast. Working alongside Natalie Morrison, strategic director, Coaches vs Cancer and sports alliances for ACS, he directed the very successful Suits and Sneakers Awareness Weekend; worked with former Maryland coach Gary Williams to develop the Coaches vs. Cancer Golf Classic; fostered an annual ACS Lobby Day when coaches go to Capitol Hill to speak with members of Congress; and several other programs.
Participation at Every Level
Phil Martelli, the head coach at Saint Joseph’s University and a NABC past president, is the current chair of the 30-member Coaches vs. Cancer Council, which includes high school coaches, present and former college coaches and national business leaders.
“After our families and teams, my next priority is coaches’ engagement in Coaches vs. Cancer as we try to crush cancer. That is the highest priority,” said Martelli, who is active around Philadelphia with the Philly 6 coaches, running golf tournaments, galas and various other events for Coaches vs. Cancer.
“It’s my goal to try to do everything the people ask, whether it’s a phone call to a fighter (cancer patient) or to another coach to get them involved, I’m convinced that answers are out there. If people believe I can make an impact, there is no greater responsibility.”
The High School Coach
Andrew Kettel has been involved with Coaches vs. Cancer since 2007, when he was named boys basketball coach at Lackawanna Trails High in northeastern Pennsylvania.
“The best player on my team was a senior and his father was at home fighting pancreatic cancer. Basketball was an outlet for him to get away from the battle vs. cancer a bit,” said Kettel. “I went home one night and watched a DI Coaches vs. Cancer game on television and thought we could do something locally.”
Now the boys coach at Scranton Prep, he heads a campaign which includes all of District 2 in the state involving 42 schools and 84 boys and girls basketball teams.
The campaign begins with a tip-off breakfast in November with some 200 in attendance including coaches, administrators, sponsors, players and general public. Following the tip-off event, schools conduct their own initiatives throughout the year that includes selling t-shirts and citrus, having school dances, dress down days. We try to engage all of the students in general, not just the athletes.
All of this leads up to Suits and Sneakers, which is followed by a Hoopla Party, held at PNC Field, the home stadium of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders, the Triple AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees. This is a 21 and over event with live entertainment and raffles to raise cancer awareness and funds.
The year’s events conclude with a May Gala, a black tie event, wearing sneakers of course in true CvC fashion. The event honors a local cancer survivor, has had crowds of close to 500 including local sponsors and professionals in the area.
Speakers at the event have included Mike Brey, Steve Lavin, Martelli, Pat Chambers, King Rice and Mark Gottfried and in the past nine years, Kettel and his team have raised $1.2 million for Coaches vs. Cancer.
Las Vegas Golf Classic
In year 11 of the Las Vegas Golf Classic, University of Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger is the founder of the event and has taken the Classic to new heights.
“We have been very fortunate to have a great group of coaches take ownership and come back every year with their boosters,” said Kruger. “It’s a fun event and a reunion of sorts but everyone who participates does not lose sight of the goal to help the fight against cancer. We have all been touched by cancer one way or another.”
Having raised some $3.5 million through the event, Kruger is very thankful for the generosity of the tournament sponsors, particularly Scott Sibella, president and chief operating officer of MGM Grand at MGM Resorts International and Kelby Krabbenhoft, president and chief executive officer of Sanford Health.
“If not for the kindness and generosity of Scott Sibella for many years and Kelby Krabbenhoft, who came on as the title sponsor this year, we could not be nearly as successful as we have been,” Kruger said. “Their sponsorship enables us to reduce overhead and give back.”
The Motivation May Be Personal
Mike Brey’s motivation for becoming involved with Coaches vs. Cancer coincided with the beginning of the program in 1993.
“I was an assistant at Duke and my father was diagnosed with malignant melanoma,” said Brey. “Fortunately I was able to get him into the Duke Cancer Center, where he was treated and lived another 30 years.”
Since taking over as head coach at Notre Dame, Brey’s program is entering its 16th season with Coaches vs. Cancer, including the new Three-Point Attack and many more ambitious events.
“Each year we have a Night of Stars at a local home where we present community members with awards,” said Brey. “We have an Inspiration Award presented to a local cancer survivor, a Dedication award possibly to a physician or other community member who has been involved, and so on.”
CVC Weekend in South Bend begins with an evening event at the South Bend Cubs minor league stadium including a silent auction and followed on Monday with a golf tournament with loads of prizes donated.
“We are now over the $3 million mark in donations for Coaches vs. Cancer,” said Brey. “We have the new Harper Cancer Center in South Bend, which was built six years ago and now $1 million in grants at the center are funded by our CvC program.”
The Fighting Irish coach is excited about a new venture, teaming with former Notre Dame standout and present general manager of the Chicago Bulls, John Paxson. They plan to have a tip-off event in October and hope to have the other college/universities around Chicago also participate.
“In and around the Notre Dame community, I get as many questions asked about our Coaches vs. Cancer program from cancer survivors and families as I do about how my team will do this year,” said Brey.
Following the Leaders
Now in his seventh season as the head coach at the University of New Haven, Ted Hotaling wants to carry on programs that he has watched be successful for Coaches vs. Cancer.
“I know that Norm Stewart started CvC and I saw what Phil Martelli and Fran Dunphy have done around Philly,” said Hotaling. ”I watched how they used their platform and as you get older and have your own program, you try to follow that image, bring awareness, and make an impact.”
“In NCAA Division II we reach a more limited population but we can be effective,” said Hotaling. “We are working to start with a breakfast in the fall, do the Three-Point Challenge and Suits and Sneakers to support Coaches vs. Cancer.”