Basketball will share the spotlight with a more serious subject next week when McMinn County visits Soddy-Daisy for a District 5-3A game.
The “C” word can strike fear into any person on the planet. Young. Old. Middle-aged people. Able-bodied folks. Basketball players. Or relatives of basketball players and, in some instances, coaches.
That last category is what triggered interest from Soddy-Daisy girls’ coach Drew Lyness and McMinn County’s Tim McPhail into tagging their district game on Jan. 25 at Soddy-Daisy as a Coaches vs. Cancer benefit.
“When Drew told me about this,” McPhail said, “it really hit home with me, as I’m sure it did with him. A lot of people are affected by this whether it’s family, friend or a coach of a kid who is dealing with cancer. It’s a very good thing they’re trying to do and we’re going to do as much as we can to help them out.”
So, the planning stages have just about concluded. In a week’s time that planning will become reality.
“When I talked to a lady from the American Cancer Society,” Lyness said, “she told me ACA was making a big push for American high schools to join in raising cancer awareness and funds. It first came to us in a random email seeking schools that wanted to participate. The last time I talked to her, Soddy-Daisy and McMinn are the only girls’ game in Tennessee.”
The Lady Trojans and Lady Cherokees play at 6 p.m., followed by a boys’ game at 7:30 p.m. Only the girls’ game is connected to the CvsC concept. A silent auction is scheduled to prior to the game and will close after the first quarter of the boys’ game.
Cheerleaders will pass donation buckets around at halftime of the girls’ game and a bake sale is planned. Also, gate receipts will go to the American Cancer Society.
Coaches vs. Cancer has become a huge fundraiser at the college level and high school “Pink Out” games are commonplace for Chattanooga-area volleyball teams.
Norm Stewart, the former men’s basketball coach at Missouri and a cancer survivor, provided the vision and inspiration for the CvsC concept approximately 25 years ago, challenging fans to pledge $1 for every 3-point shot made by his team for an entire season. From that meager beginning, the movement has transformed into a national collaboration between the ACA and National Association of Basketball Coaches.
The backstory for Soddy-Daisy and McMinn County’s girls’ teams for the worthy ACA venture is clear and heartfelt. For both teams.
Lady Trojan junior Katie Hamby’s older sister, Makayla, a former Soddy-Daisy player who graduated two years ago, has been in a year-long battle with cancer. Fortunately, her last scan presented wonderful news – she is cancer free.
“We’re extremely happy about Makayla and her fight against Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” Lyness said.
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is diagnosed in more than 9,000 people, mainly between 16 and 34 years of age and those over the age of 55, in the United States each year, according to the MD Anderson Center at the University of Texas.
Lyness’ uncle, Mark Harvey, is also part of Soddy-Daisy’s story.
“Mark has pancreatic and liver cancer,” Lyness said. “He’s had a rough couple of weeks and we’re hoping for the best for him.”
As for McMinn County, the Lady Cherokees’ Aubrey Pickel’s 8-year-old brother, Neyland, is courageously battling Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a type of blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow and can spread to the blood and other parts of the body.
Neyland was originally diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 3.
“He got through that,” said McPhail, “and now he’s in his second round with AML and winding down a 100-day stay at a Nashville hospital. He’s had a bone marrow transplant and should be home in about two weeks.
“That’s why we were so receptive to the idea of doing this at our game at Soddy-Daisy on the 25th.”
McPhail said Aubrey Pickel has been amazing during her brother’s treatment and the long days away from home.
“She is such a wonderful kid; everybody understands the situation and she’s all about her brother,” the veteran McMinn coach said. “It has been extremely tough on her and I admire her in that she hasn’t missed any more time at practice and she’s been at games doing what she’s supposed to do for the team. That speaks volumes for her and her family.”
And Neyland is always with the team because the Lady Cherokees have the hashtag #NeylandStrong on their shooting shirts worn during pregame warm-ups.
The trend at Coaches vs. Cancer games is for the involved coaches to wear regular street clothes and top – or, maybe bottom – off the wardrobe with basketball shoes.
“We’re going to dress nice and will wear tennis shoes,” Lyness said.
Added McPhail, “It doesn’t matter what we wear as long as we’re doing what we can to raise money for this cause.”
More than 500 Division I, II and III college coaches are involved in the program and, according to the CvsC program has raised about $40 million since its inception to support the ACA mission. It’s estimated that more than 100 high school coaches participate in the mission.
Come Jan. 25, that number will be at least 102 when Soddy-Daisy and McMinn County girls’ coaches join the club.
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)