Cancer fundraisers target high school sporting events

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2012 - 6:23 AM

Charitable organizations, including one run by TV personality Randy Shaver, are increasingly aggressive.

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KARE TV personality Randy Shaver’s charitable foundation is becoming a key player in what has become a head-to-head competition with the American Cancer Society and others in trying to tap high school sporting events to raise money for cancer research.

Randy Shaver has emerged as the dean of Minnesota high school sports reporters in the past 29 years, regularly featuring videotaped highlights every Friday night on his TV prep sports show.

Shaver's charitable foundation is also busy these days: Becoming a key player in what has become a head-to-head competition with the American Cancer Society and others in trying to tap high school sporting events to raise money for cancer research.

In a sign of a new aggressiveness in fundraising at the high school level, the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund and Coaches vs. Cancer, a project of the American Cancer Society, are collecting money at hundreds of high school football and basketball games throughout Minnesota. In some cases, coaches and schools said they are choosing between the two groups.

Other cancer research charities -- drawn in some cases by the lack of oversight at the high school level -- are joining in. A Virginia-based charity, the Side-Out Foundation, is annually hosting "Dig Pink" cancer research funding events at high school volleyball games, and has more than 30 Minnesota schools signed up for events this year.

Some high schools in Minnesota have found the push by the charities unsettling.

"We try to keep them out of our athletic venues because I just don't think that's what people buy a ticket for," said Jamie Sherwood, the activities director at Wayzata High School.

This past fall Shaver, a cancer survivor, and the state high school football coaches association convinced nearly 140 high schools to host "Tackle Cancer" nights to raise money for his foundation, and regularly highlighted schools on TV that did so.

Newscast plug

"Final score tonight: Mounds View winning at home on 'Tackle Cancer Night', 40-0," he told his Channel 11 viewers during an October telecast. "They did a nice job raising money. Here's the highlights of the game."

A "Tackle Cancer Night" brochure, featuring Shaver, suggested that schools "organize a group of lower level players or parents" to collect money at the gate, and said the team raising the most money would be featured on Shaver's TV show. On one of his prep sports shows, Shaver told his viewers that "in Waterville, just west of Faribault, that town, that team raised $4,500 for 'Tackle Cancer,' mostly by selling T-shirts and sweatshirts."

Shaver's partnership with the Minnesota Football Coaches Association -- Shaver is a member of its hall of fame -- came through his close relationship with many coaches, especially Minnetonka High School football coach Dave Nelson.

"I think everybody in the metro [area] identifies with Randy and his foundation," said Nelson, who lobbied his coaching colleagues to partner with Shaver. Nelson said he even had his football team shovel rock to help raise money for Shaver's foundation.

No conflict

Shaver, who regularly reports on high school events, maintains there is no conflict in collecting money at them.

Shaver's foundation, which in 2009 paid Shaver's wife $10,400 as its vice president and treasurer, has raised $4 million for cancer research since the 1990s and collected more than $118,000 during this fall's inaugural "Tackle Cancer" campaign.

"The Irondale quarterback sent me a check -- sent a check to 'Tackle Cancer'. [How] about that? Two hundred and thirty-one dollars out of his own pocket," said Shaver.

Not to be outdone, the American Cancer Society announced it is forming a Minnesota high school coaches council and is marshaling its staff and volunteers to boost efforts to collect money at high school sporting events. The Coaches vs. Cancer campaign raised more than $200,000 during the past school year, had 120 high schools participate and has set a $360,000 fundraising goal for next year.

"It's evolving, for sure," Lou Harvin, an American Cancer Society spokesman, said of targeting high school events. Harvin said that while Coaches vs. Cancer has primarily targeted high school basketball games, it planned to also raise money at wrestling and hockey events this winter, "and they'll be looking at other sports in the spring."

In Minnesota, Coaches vs. Cancer has won the backing of the high school basketball coaches association.

While Harvin said the American Cancer Society would not comment on the efforts of another non-profit, he added that "we've poured literally just millions of dollars into cancer research over the years [and] we've been a part of every major breakthrough."

Less 'red tape'

Rick Dunetz, executive director of the Side-Out Foundation rasing money at volleyball games, said he has focused more on high schools because at some "colleges there's a lot of red tape and a lot of complications."

A spokesman for the Minnesota State High School League said the governing body, for example, bans pink-colored basketballs from being used at games as part of cancer awareness promotions, but does not otherwise have guidelines on fundraising at sporting events.

At Woodbury High School, head football coach Andy Hill said he had already committed to raise money for Coaches vs. Cancer when he was asked to hold a "Tackle Cancer Night" for Shaver's foundation. "We were a few weeks down that road when I heard about the 'Tackle Cancer' event," he said.

At Cretin-Derham Hall High School, athletic director Jodi Loeblein-Lecker said the school opted not to do either event this year because "we already have so many outside initiatives that we're working for, adding other ones really dilutes" the effort.

Coon Rapids activities director Kelley Scott said, however, that hosting a "Tackle Cancer Night" was an easy decision.

"You feel good about supporting this because of everything that Randy's done for high school football, and now he's asking high school football to give back a little bit," he said. "If Randy's going to put his name on it, it's going to be legit."

Many high school coaches who participated in the "Tackle Cancer Nights" agreed. When Apple Valley and Eastview High School played football this fall, the schools sold "Battle for the Apple" T-shirts and had Shaver as a speaker.

"All proceeds that were raised selling the shirts, and they sold at both schools, went back to the 'Tackle Cancer,'" said Pete Buesgens, Apple Valley's athletic director. "We sold out."

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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