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NCAA coaches join local cancer fight

Relay for Life volunteers Pat Cinotte (left) and Amy Rutherford display some of the autographed basketballs donated to the Bureau County "Coaches vs. Cancer" raffle. (BCR Photo/Charlie Ellerbrock)
Relay for Life volunteers Pat Cinotte (left) and Amy Rutherford display some of the autographed basketballs donated to the Bureau County "Coaches vs. Cancer" raffle. (BCR Photo/Charlie Ellerbrock)

SPRING VALLEY -- There's only one place to win basketballs autographed by coaches of the last three NCAA men's basketball tournament championship teams, Connecticut's Jim Calhoun, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Maryland's Gary Williams, as well as those from a dozen other Division I coaches from around the country, for just $1. The Relay for Life. The Bureau County "Coaches vs. Cancer" effort, which has met with only marginal and diminishing success in its first three years, is turning up its effort to raise funds for the annual Relay for Life with a little help from the big time. That's come in the form of basketballs signed by big-name coaches like that trio, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Illinois' Bruce Weber, St. Joseph's Phil Martelli, Notre Dame's Mike Brey, Northwestern's Bill Carmody and Bradley's Jim Les, among others. There's even one ball, offered for signing at a "Coaches vs. Cancer" golf outing in Atlanta two months ago, that bears the signatures of Boeheim, Williams, Calhoun, Geno Auriemma of the NCAA women's champ UConn, Rhode Island's Jim Baron, former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, current Tech coach Paul Hewitt, Penn's Fran Dunphy, Alabama's Mark Gottfried, former North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge, former Air Force coach Reggie Minton, former Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien, Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson, Villanova's Jay Wright and former Missouri coach Norm Stewart. That ball, with the balls signed by Krzyzewski, Weber and Brey, will be available at a silent auction at the Relay for Life on Aug. 6. The others will be awarded to the winners of the raffle. Tickets $1 each or six for $5 -- are available from former DePue coach Pat Cinotte at (815) 663-2629, Relay for Life's Amy Rutherford at (815) 663-1917, at The Locker Room in Spring Valley and at Bureau Valley High School, though interested parties should call the Manlius school first to arrange a time for a purchase with principal Terry Gutshall. "Everyone's life has been touched by cancer in some way, and it's exciting to me that these big-time college coaches really do care and want to help," Cinotte said. "In the Syracuse media guide, there are 10 pages on how Jim Boeheim has done to help cancer research. It's great everyone's rallying toward one goal: to find a cure." Cinotte spoke Patrice Bolls, the "Coaches vs. Cancer" director at the NCAA level, and learned that several big-name coaches were big supporters. He asked if there was any way that they'd consider signing basketball to be auctioned or raffled off to benefit the cause, and she said it sounded like a great idea. Along with Rutherford and Phil Hockings of the Relay for Life, Cinotte contacted Jim Garland of The Locker Room in Spring Valley about the basketballs, then contacted the coaches themselves to ask if they were interested. Nearly all the others agreed to sign and returned the autographed ball back to Cinotte within two weeks of it being sent to them. The Locker Room's Hugo Heredia has since added some school-specific art to some of the panels, making each one a unique collector's item. "I know coaches and how busy they are -- with clinics, speaking engagements, recruiting -- and just because it's a priority to me doesn't mean it's a priority to them," Cinotte said. "But they all came through fast. It was kinda neat to come home every day and wonder what was in the package at the door, who would it be today." The ball effort will hopefully raise awareness of the winter fundraiser, where fans can pledge so much for each game their favorite team wins during the year. That portions has raised around $3,000, but only around $700 came in last winter. "The first year it went well, the second so-so, the third it practically didn't go at all," said Rutherford. "This year, we had nearly all the coaches present and hopefully the program will be revived."

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