From the Editor

Drescher: Baseball players raise money for young cancer patients

jdrescher@newsobserver.comApril 26, 2013 

Duke played UNC in baseball last weekend. Duke lost all three games and was outscored 21-3.

After the final game late Sunday afternoon, as the shadows lengthened at Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill, the players shook hands. Then they sat down in chairs in front of the UNC dugout and had their heads shaved – every player and every coach from both teams. Even the Duke bus driver got clipped.

They shaved their heads to raise money for local children’s hospitals and for cancer research. They also shaved their heads to show solidarity with young cancer patients who lose their hair during treatment.

“It was really powerful,” first-year Duke coach Chris Pollard told me. “We didn’t have a great weekend in terms of results on the field. After the game, we didn’t have a lot of time to feel sorry for ourselves. There are kids (with cancer) all over the state, all over the country and all over the world who really don’t care that we just got our butts kicked by Carolina. It puts a baseball game in perspective.

“I’ll be honest with you, it was a pretty emotional moment for me. It resonated with me. I was proud to be a part of it.”

Former UNC bullpen catcher Chase Jones, 24, who graduated from UNC in 2011, organized the effort. At Ragsdale High near Greensboro, Jones was captain of the baseball and football teams and student body president.

As an 18-year-old freshman at UNC, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, which had spread to his spine. He received four months of chemotherapy and four weeks of proton radiation. His Carolina teammates shaved their heads in a sign of unity and support. Jones, who is now cancer-free, has never forgotten how his teammates embraced him.

Now Jones, who lives in Raleigh, approaches baseball coaches and players and asks them if they’d shave their heads to raise money to fight cancer. “I tell my story about me being a cancer patient and what it meant to me to see my teammates shave their head when I was going through treatment,” he said this week.

Jones creates a web page for each player where donors can contribute. He created a nonprofit, Vs. Cancer, and has 40 events scheduled this year, including Sunday at UNC-Greensboro. Players at Santa Clara in California and Tulane in New Orleans also have shaved their heads to raise money for Vs. Cancer.

$250,000 this year

Jones has raised about $250,000 this year. He’s a one-man, full-time operation and pledges that 85 percent will go to the cause, which, he says, “is unheard of for a first-year nonprofit organization.” Half of proceeds go to national childhood cancer research; the other half to local childhood cancer hospitals. Jones’ board includes two college coaches, a physician and a CEO.

Usually only one team participates. But Jones had the idea for Duke and UNC to participate on the same day. “It looks so awesome when you have two of the biggest rivals in sports coming together like this and going for a higher cause,” Jones said.

When Jones approached the Duke team and told his story, Coach Pollard said his team agreed unanimously to participate. Pollard said his players realized, This is about something bigger than me. This is about solidarity.

Pollard would like to make the event an annual tradition as part of the Duke-UNC series. “Our players had a blast with it,” he said. “Our coaches had a blast with it. It really galvanized our community.”

‘Ability to create visibility’

N.C. State also has participated. Coach Elliott Avent noted that two of State’s most beloved coaches, Jim Valvano and Kay Yow, succumbed to cancer. Avent supports the cause. “We have the ability to create the visibility,” he said.

He also said he was impressed by Jones, a Tar Heel who ventured into enemy territory. “I just thought it was kind of neat how he took the time to come by my office and open his heart up,” Avent said. “I thought he was a really good guy.”

Like Duke’s Pollard, Avent didn’t want his players to feel pressured to shave their heads. “They’re 18 years old, 19 years old. Their hair is important to them,” Avent said. But after the April 7 game against Virginia Tech, each State player and coach had his head shaved.

Jones credits the entire State team, but especially star pitcher Carlos Rodon, who was active on social media and raised more than $1,000 toward the cause.

State and Carolina, two of the country’s top college baseball teams, are playing a big-time series this weekend in Raleigh, with the Sunday game televised nationally. Three days before the first game, Jones said: “I’ve become a big fan of N.C. State.”

To paraphrase the late, great baseball manager and philosopher Casey Stengel: Who would have thunk it?

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or jdrescher@newsobserver.com. On Twitter @john_drescher

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