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A dollar well spent

 

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It's $1. It isn't 5 or 10. It's a measly buck. It's a soda at Rod's or two tacos on Tuesday. You can afford it.

For fans attending tonight's or tomorrow's Coaches vs. Cancer Classic basketball tournament, you will be asked to pay an extra dollar admission. Yes, people with season tickets in the Century Club, sports editors with press passes, even people with diplomatic immunity you will be asked to pay $1 extra admission.

Before anybody screams rip-off, or acts like a sales tax is being implemented relax. It's going to a good cause. Each and every one of those extra dollars will go to the American Cancer Society.

I realize times are tight, Christmas is coming and every dollar saved helps. But I ask you one simple question.

Have you in some way been touched by cancer?

Maybe it was a member of your family who had it, or one of your friends' mom or dad. Maybe it was a co-worker or a classmate who had it. Maybe it was just a person you wouldn't consider a good friend, but much more than an acquaintance.

Regardless of the situation, how many people can honestly raise their hand and say, no I haven't been touched by cancer? Not many. I know I can't.

I watched my friend's mom pass away in a matter of a year. One day she was chewing out a overzealous little league coach for giving the umpires a hard time, the next she was bed-ridden and in incomprehensible pain. She died at age 40. She never saw her oldest son get married or got to see her granddaughter. She never saw her youngest son graduate from high school.

I was barely 19 years old. The first person I really knew well that died. It offered me a change in perspective about what I held important in life.

The same thing happened for Montana State University-Northern men's basketball coach Shawn Huse.

Three years ago, Huse's brother Brad was in the midst of his finest season as the head coach of the Jamestown College Jimmies. As with most college coaches, Brad began experiencing some severe stomach pain. He went to the doctor thinking it was from stress. Instead it was cancer.

At the ripe old age of 33, Brad Huse was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, cancer of the lymph nodes. Shawn, who was an assistant coach at Nebraska-Kearney, was floored.

"It really hit close to home," Shawn said.

Suddenly a game which revolves around a putting a round ball through a round hoop didn't seem so important. Missed shots aren't quite so painful, turnovers aren't so costly and games aren't life or death. Cancer has funny way of putting things into perspective.

"It's easy to get caught up in the wins and losses," Shawn admits. "It really made me look at things differently."

Unlike your opponents on the basketball court, cancer picks you. It doesn't always play fair. It doesn't care how old you are, if you have kids or you're finally doing what it is you've always wanted to do. It doesn't matter if you're male or female, black or white cancer doesn't care. Cancer cheats. It cheats you out of life and time.

But cancer picked the wrong opponent this time.

Doctors were able to diagnose Brad's cancer in its early stages. After surgery and a year's worth of gut-wrenching, nauseating chemo treatments, Brad's cancer is in remission. He is still coaching and his life appears back to normal.

But don't think that Shawn has ever forgotten what happened.

"I think about him a lot," Shawn says as his voice grows soft. "I think about what he went through. I lost my grandparents to cancer, too. It isn't a huge amount, but I'm in a position where I can give a little back."

And that's why he set up the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic to give back. Several other schools around the country are doing the same. The Coaches vs. Cancer foundation was inspired by the courageous battle fought by former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano, who died from brain cancer in 1993. The foundation works with the National Association of Basketball Coaches and since its inception in 1993, Coaches vs. Cancer has raised $16 million for the American Cancer Society.

Of course not every dollar from this weekend will go to directly to the American Cancer Society. Some of it goes to the Northern program for paying referees and other assorted expenses. But the majority goes to help fight the good fight.

"It's not like we're trying to make a million dollars or anything," Huse says. "Instead of all the money going to the program, I wanted to give some back."

Besides the $1 admission, there will also be tournament T-shirts for sale, and Super 8 motel will donate $3 for every three-pointer the Lights make.

It may sound cliche, but in the battle against cancer, every dollar counts.

Still Huse isn't going to turn anyone away who doesn't want to pay the extra fee.

"If someone absolutely doesn't want to pay, we won't make them," he says.

It's a diplomatic and understanding stance. Unfortunately, it's one I don't agree with.

Maybe you can say that cancer has never forced tears from your eyes, made your stomach boil in anger asking why, or never touched you in some way, and you don't think you should pay. Then come find me at the game. I'll pay your $1.

 
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