For first-year football coach Ron English cancer is a subject that hits home to him — he lost his father last year to pancreatic cancer. So when the thought of joining the Eastern Michigan University volleyball team when it does its annual fundraiser to support breast cancer research, English was right on board.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Saturday has been marked “Dig and Kick Pink” day by the EMU Athletic Department.
This marks the third-consecutive year the EMU volleyball team has raised funds for the cause and the second the Eagles have partnered with the Side-Out Foundation, a Virginia-based non-profit that raises money in cooperation with volleyball-related organizations.
Volleyball coach Kim Berrington’s team reached its 2008-season goal of $5,000, which was second in the nation among college teams associated with Side-Out’s program. With the collaborative effort from the football team, the volleyball team has set a 2009 mark of $8,000.
The volleyball team has setup a Web page via Side-Out where users can donate to the cause as well as bid on breakfast prizes with W4 Country radio DJ “Bubba,” as well as trips to Chicago and Toronto.
Side-Out teams up with high school volleyball teams across the country, so many of Berrington’s players have played for the cause for a number of years, but she said it means a lot this year given one of her former player’s mothers is a survivor and one player on the 2009 roster’s grandmothers is currently fighting breast cancer.
“It’s definitely one of those things everyone can relate to,” Berrington said. “It definitely raises awareness among my players and gives them an opportunity to learn a little more about it. It’s a fun thing to be a part of.”
W4 Country is Saturday’s game-day sponsor for the EMU football game against Ball State, where English will don a pink coaches polo shirt and hat. Both will be auctioned off at the volleyball game later in the evening.
The involvement, English said, is one of ways he wants his players to be a part of the community.
“It raises awareness that we’re more about more than just football,” English said. “And I think, particularly at the collegiate level, you need to be about more than that because these are young men who are developing, and they need to see there are more areas of concern in life other than football.”
The first 1,000 fans at the 1 p.m. football game will receive a pink miniature football and the first 250 fans at the 7 p.m. volleyball game against Buffalo will receive a miniature pink and white Baden volleyball.
The volleyball team will be wearing commemorative pink jerseys during the game. All donators will also receive a miniature pink football for their contribution.
Side-Out CEO and Founder, Rick Dunetz, is expected to be at both the football and volleyball contests.
EMU Athletic Director Dr. Derrick Gragg said given the attention athletics receives, it’s the department’s duty to show support for a cause such as breast cancer research.
“We always want to be involved with something that is positive,” Gragg said. “And breast cancer awareness is something critical across the country and across the world. So whenever we can provide more awareness and help educate people a little more, I think that’s what higher education is about.”
Of the more than 300 colleges and universities that have set up Side-Out donation pages, five other teams are from the Mid-American Conference. Side-Out’s fundraising goal for 2009 is $700,000.