College coaches fighting cancer

May 14 2011 - 7:23pm

NEW YORK -- Coaches vs. Cancer has become more than a fundraising organization. It is trying to raise awareness about the disease.

Both were on display Thursday.

Several college coaches, including Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, were on hand in midtown Manhattan for a meet-and-greet that would help fill the organization's coffers.

But Jim Satalin, the national director of the Coaches vs. Cancer -- a collaborative effort of the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches -- since 1998, showed he's serious about raising awareness.

"I just saw (Syracuse assistant coach) Gerry McNamara and he is sunburned all over his face," said Satalin, a former coach at St. Bonaventure and Duquesne. "I said 'What are you doing?' He said he was out playing golf and he had all this sunscreen in his bag and just didn't put it on. I told him, 'If one of these people from the American Cancer Society sees you they're going to bust you like you wouldn't believe."'

The laughs following most stories at the event are quickly silenced when people begin to talk of those close to them who couldn't beat cancer.

Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley Sr. has put the same effort into fighting cancer as he does when he leads St. Anthony H.S. of Jersey City, N.J., to state championship after state championship.

His sons, Danny, the head coach at Wagner, and Bob Jr., the former Duke All-America who is his brother's assistant, have joined their father in this cause.

"They lost their grandfather to lung cancer when they were so young," Hurley Sr. said. "My dad loved sports and one of our biggest regrets, Bobby was 11 when he passed away, we talk all the time how much fun he would have had watching his grandsons play ball."

Boeheim was one of the first coaches to follow Missouri's Norm Stewart and raise money for cancer research. Now he is among the top fundraisers each year with several events including a gala ball that has become a big event in central New York State.

Boeheim is also a cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001 and underwent surgery. He missed just four games, still the only games he has missed in his 34 seasons at Syracuse.

He has become a sounding board for those who have found out they have cancer.

"I get a lot of calls. Local guys. Some national. Some just ordinary people," Boeheim said. "There's a lot of mystery about it and people know I had it. I always tell them if you catch it early you can get through it and be just as good as ever.

"To go out there and tell people and talk about it, I think it's important. The most important thing about cancer is awareness and that comes with the more people that talk about it. We're going to raise a certain amount of money and that's good, but I think if you raise the awareness level you can affect more people especially with prostate cancer. You catch it early and you'll be fine. It's astronomical odds that you wouldn't believe. Some people used to never get tested now you have people 50, even 40 getting tested."

Coaches vs. Cancer has raised more than $30 million in 22 years. Those involved know there are other causes out there that many coaches have been part of for decades.

"Everybody's touched by cancer," Boeheim said. "It's really grown and it could even be better but most coaches, like Mike Krzyzewksi, they already had something they were doing. We have a lot of people but we couldn't get everybody. We're getting more people all the time."

One of the latest to sign up is Saint Peter's coach John Dunne.

"I jumped at the chance," said Dunne, who was appointed chair of the NCAA's Basketball Rules Committee. "My mother is a cancer survivor. She had it twice so it's a subject close to my heart and now that I'm in my 40s I'm starting to lose people. It's all become a reality."

SMU coach Matt Doherty was a financial trader for four years before he started his coaching career. At WJB Capital Group on Thursday he had the chance to try his hand at it again and he slipped right in.

"This is what I did until I started coaching," he said. "They're both hard and both interesting but I'll take coaching."

It's the coaches who make a difference with their own fundraising organization and they can make a difference with people as well.

"When you have a Jim Boeheim, a Jim Calhoun, when these guys speak they listen to them," Satalin said. "You can be a speaker, a great one, and a lot of people will be yawning. Make the speaker a coach and they pay attention to him."

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