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Coaches vs. Cancer to help raise money for cancer research

Tacoma Community College, though they play on the road on Jan. 26, are doing their part to show support by wearing specially made blue and pink uniforms for prostate and breast cancer awareness.

By John William Howard

It's rare to find someone who has not been touched by cancer. Whether a personal battle, a shared battle of a loved one, or a loss of someone dear, the reach of cancer has effected just about everyone. Today, member schools all across the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges are doing their part to fight back.

For those who are attending basketball games on the afternoon and evening of January 26th, they may notice something a little different. Many of the coaches will sport sneakers with along with their usual attire. Most of the host schools are donating the gate revenue to fund cancer research, and in many cases, will accept donations to the cause.

"For me, it's really a special chance for us to support people," said Carl Howell, head men's basketball coach at Tacoma Community College. Howell, who is also the head of the league's basketball committee, has lost several close people to cancer, and continues to see the effect on those around him.

"I think cancer's touched the lives of all of us in some way. Pretty much everybody I know has known somebody or had a family member who had a bout with cancer," said Howell. "Some of those people have survived it, and some people haven't."

Coaches vs. Cancer, as the annual event is christened, goes far beyond the NWAACC. Coaches from the middle school level to the professional leagues participate in the awareness and fundraiser events, which are a collaboration between the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Coaches vs. Cancer, oftentimes shortened to CvC, was started by Jim Boehiem, head men's coach at Syracuse University in 1996. The first year, the university raised just under $78,000. Since then, according to the ACS, the event has raised more than 87 million dollars to help fund cancer research.

"I think it's really above basketball and athletics, to be honest with you," said Howell. "I think it's for everybody. As small as it may seem, it's help in some way to promote awareness and hopefully at some point find a cure for this terrible thing."

Clackamas CC Head Coach Clif Wegner
has lost several friends to cancer, including
a former co-coach, who's photo hangs on the
wall in the gym at Clackamas.

Clackamas CC Head Men's Coach Clif Wegner, like Howell, has lost several people to cancer, including friends and a co-coach of many years. One of the more powerful experiences for Wegner came two years ago at a CvC meeting in Houston.

"The speaker asked that anybody who would be willing to aknowledge that they were battling cancer would stand up and draw support from the group," remembered Wegner, "and about 15 or 20 of the hundred or so people there stood up."

Those who stood were applauded, but the speaker wasn't done. He then asked for those who had lost a friend, a relative, a loved one, or a co-worker to stand as well.

"Virtually no one was left seated, out of about a hundred people," said Wegner. "It was such a powerful moment. It described and hit home how pervasive an enemy [cancer is], and it effects all of us."

Wegner, who's former coaching partner's face is immortalized on the wall in the gymnasium at Clackamas, lifted his spirits when he mentioned the progress in cancer research, and why events like Coaches vs Cancer are so important.

"What's so exciting is that there are these incredible breakthroughs that just need more money for research... we're so close," said Wegner. "To be able to participate and feel like you're doing somehing against cancer and to be able to stand for something like we do every year with the American Cancer Society, just to be a part of that makes you feel good."

While many coaches will wear tennis shoes, and some teams will wear alternate uniforms or warm-ups, the best way for fans to participate is to attend one of these special events. According to Howell, who helps to head up the event, most if not all of the schools will be donating gate proceeds and accepting donations. Donations can also be made directly to the American Cancer Society via their website.

If you have photos, or a story to share about your experience on Coaches vs. Cancer night, you can share them on the league's facebook wall, or use the hashtag #CoachesvsCancer on twitter. 

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