Coach Steve Cleveland and his staff know it is not an easy undertaking.
They know for the program to work it will require dedication and a collective team effort and they need the support of not only current BYU fans but also the community at large. But this is not about building a strong basketball program or defeating opponents on the court. No, it's about defeating a deadly disease. It's about defeating cancer.
Cleveland and his staff are among the more than 500 coaches around the country that have teamed up to fight cancer through their involvement in the Coaches vs. Cancer program. Formed in 1993 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the American Cancer Society, Coaches vs. Cancer was initiated after the untimely death of former North Carolina State coach and NABC member, Jim Valvano. The partnership is dedicated to defeating cancer by raising contributions to support the American Cancer Society's cancer research program, educational initiatives, advocacy efforts and patient services.
"Everybody has felt effects of cancer in one way or another," says BYU coach Steve Cleveland. "Most people have family or close friends impacted by cancer. Through Coaches vs. Cancer, we, in some small way, are trying to help."
Through Coaches vs. Cancer, Coach Cleveland and his peers are working to offer hope and help find answers to fight this deadly disease. Some ways coaches are trying to do this include:
* presenting healthy lifestyle education programs during their summer basketball camps and appearances at elementary schools;
* serving as advocates for tobacco legislation;
* visiting cancer patients to offer hopeful and compassionate messages during their fight against cancer.
In December, Cleveland and his team visited with nearly 40 families who have felt the traumas of cancer. The coaches and players were able to distribute Christmas gifts and spend time meeting these families during the evening held at the Harmon's Pontiac/Cadillac in Provo.
"The experience we had with the team was one of the most worthwhile experiences I have had and it was a great for my team," Cleveland says. "We want to do as much as we can, and the awareness players and coaches receive taking part in the program is also important. I believe the young people in our program need to be involved in things off the court and in the community. Coaches vs. Cancer is a great program and is one way we can serve others in the community."
Cleveland and the BYU basketball program are also teaming up with Applebee's Neighborhood Grill during this year's NCAA Tournament to raise money for children's cancer research in Utah. As part of the Applebee's and Coaches vs. Cancer Giving Kids a Shot program, the Orem Applebee's restaurant at 290 West University Parkway in Orem will provide patrons the opportunity to have some fun, get to meet BYU players and coaches and help raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
"During the NCAA Tournament, we will have several different opportunities for people to get involved in raising funds that specifically go to children's cancer research, with the money staying right here in Utah," explains Craig Borlik, general manager of the local Applebee's. "It's nice to have the BYU coaches and players on board as part of this effort."
Applebee's will decorate the restaurant with paper basketballs containing the names of people who have donated $1 during the March Madness program. People who donate the $1 will also be able to shoot free throws inside the restaurant to win a free appetizer. Items autographed by BYU basketball players and coaches will also be available. For more information about the program, call Craig Borlik of Applebee's at 801-223-0111.
With the hope that these efforts will provide a real benefit for cancer patients here in Utah, the overall Coaches vs. Cancer program has also grown in its influence at the national level. Entering the 1999-2000 college basketball season, the Coaches vs. Cancer program had raised $10.6 million nationwide and had generated contributions of $3 million in each of the last two years. This year, the ninth season of Coaches vs. Cancer, the fourth annual Coaches vs. Cancer IKON Classic tipped off the season at Madison Square Garden. The tournament has raised more than $1 million for the American Cancer Society and this year featured Duke, Stanford, Connecticut and Iowa.
According to Jim Satalin, director of Coaches vs. Cancer, the overall program has established a good foundation and is poised to have a much greater impact in the coming years.
"Last year Coaches vs. Cancer was successful educating youths about the dangers of tobacco and in raising funds for the American Cancer Society," Satalin explains. "The increased commitment from coaches, American Cancer Society coordinators and fans has given this program a solid foundation. Now, and in years to come, Coaches vs. Cancer has the opportunity to really influence and make an impact in the fight against cancer.
"Our goal this season is reaching out to more people and informing them that the American Cancer Society is a valuable resource in the fight against cancer," continues Satalin. "Coaches vs. Cancer is not just about fundraising. It also educates people that the American Cancer Society can take care of their most basic needs concerning cancer issues ÂŠ providing current cancer information, access to local services, and compassion."
Perhaps one reason why Coaches vs. Cancer has become a successful program is that coaches have personally felt the pains of cancer. One example is Syracuse University Head Basketball Coach Jim Boeheim, who is serving as chairman of the Coaches Council - the governing body for Coaches vs. Cancer. He lost both his parents to cancer. BYU's own Stan Watts, the legendary former coach who won two NIT titles and escorted in the Marriott Center era, fought and overcame cancer while still coaching and was able to return to the court (see related story below).
Other coaches among the more than 500 involved in the program include Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Kansas' Roy Williams, Louisville's Denny Crum and Arizona's Lute Olson.
"Being involved with Coaches vs. Cancer was a no-brainer for me," says Olson. "As a coaching fraternity, we realize the impact we have on people. We are dedicated in taking the lead in the fight against cancer. Every step we take with our efforts moves us closer to putting an end to this frightening disease."
Cancer claimed the life of the late BYU Coach Lynn Archibald (1994-97) in May 1997.
Another coach involved in Coaches vs. Cancer for years is BYU assistant coach Dave Rose. While serving as head coach at Dixie College in St. George, Rose was among the first involved with the program soon after it began in 1993.
"It's a great way to raise money for a great cause," says Rose. "While I was at Dixie, we had a lot of people get involved with the program. We hope a lot of people will get involved with the program here as well.
Watts Beat Cancer
For over 30 years Coach Stan Watts has overcame cancer.
Although the now 88-year-old former BYU men's basketball coach had a record of 372-254 (.594) from 1949-72, perhaps his greatest victory was overcoming cancer.
In 1970 cancer was detected near Coach Watts' prostate gland. After 20 radiation treatments, Watts had surgery in February, 1971. Doctors Duane Davis, Steven Hatch and Wendell Vance removed many of Watts' organs including the bladder, the prostate gland, the appendix, lymph nodes and nine inches of colon.
"A lot of people were cheering for me with their faith and prayers," said Watts in an interview weeks after his 83-year-old wife Emily passed away last month. "Letters came in for me from little kids and I guess the Lord heard some of them.
"My body was strong and I had good doctors," said Watts regarding other reasons he was able to beat the rare cancer which had killed the three other known victims. "I spent 12 hours on the operating table, 20 days in the hospital and I was able to come back and coach." "He is a walking miracle and has beaten a lot of other things, too," says Pete Witbeck, BYU senior associate athletic director who served for years as an assistant basketball coach under Watts. "He has had a stroke, hip surgery, brain surgery and a colostomy all within the past two years." Watts is a member of seven halls of fame, most notably the Naismith Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. Watts served as Utah's honorary State Chairman for the 1972 Cancer Crusade.
"It was devastating to learn I had cancer and the surgery was very major, but I haven't had any complications with it," said Watts. The legendary coach is still alert, recalling even the details when he was asked to revive BYU baseball in 1948.