WASHINGTON – University of Maryland, College Park, men’s basketball coach Gary Williams has led his team to a national championship; now he’s looking to help win another battle — against cancer.
Williams joined two state representatives and four other NCAA basketball coaches — two who also have won national championships — on Capitol Hill Tuesday to ask Congress for more funding for cancer research.
The group came on behalf of Coaches vs. Cancer, a group of more than 500 college basketball coaches that has raised nearly $45 million for cancer research.
“Coaches versus cancer: I put my money on the coaches,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who hosted the coaches and crowd of cancer survivors and volunteers from the American Cancer Association.
Williams found it easy to get involved in the fight against cancer since he had a personal connection to it – his mother died of cancer.
“I was looking for some way to give back a little bit, and as basketball coaches, we do have an opportunity to meet a lot of people, and so it’s been a great experience for me to be involved in Coaches Versus Cancer,” he said.
One weekend a year, the coaches wear basketball shoes with their business suits during games to call attention to the issue.
“It looks funny, but it does bring a lot of awareness to the fight against cancer that the coaches are involved with,” Williams said.
At the University of Maryland, College Park, Williams said he has a breakfast every November to start the beginning of the season and raise money for cancer research.
Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in America, and in 2004 — the most recent statistics available — more than 500,000 died from the disease, including more than 10,000 in Maryland, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We have a game plan,” Cardin said. “When you have coaches, you got to have a game plan. We have a game plan. We want to prevent cancer in the first place. We want early detection of those who have cancer. And we want effective treatment. That’s our game plan.”
To execute the plan, however, takes money, Cardin said.
In 1997, Congress doubled the funding for the National Institutes of Health, which was then able to fund “one out of every four worthwhile projects that were submitted by America’s brightest minds,” Cardin said. “Today, only one out of 11 worthwhile projects can be funded by NIH. That’s not acceptable.”
Williams said he has faith the funding will come through in the clutch.
“We all know as coaches — it’s amazing how it works — the better the players that we have, the better the coaches we are,” he said. “And so I think what has happened with the fight against cancer — especially in the research area — as you’ve heard today, we have the best doctors in the world on our side, so that gives us a great deal of confidence that we can win this thing.”
Coaches Jim Calhoun from the University of Connecticut, Jim Boeheim from Syracuse University, Fran Dunphy from Temple University and Mark Gottfried from the University of Alabama also spoke at the event.
Some of the coaches’ state representatives could not appear because they were at the banking committee meeting discussing the government’s bailout of the mortgage industry, but Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., and Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn. introduced their coaches.
Sue Moats, a 71-year-old from Silver Spring, Md., also attended the event. She has lost many relatives to cancer, but she survived the disease and has been living cancer-free for seven and a half years.
“To be here is very important to me because I had insurance, I had very early detection, successful treatment, and I would like for all women to have that opportunity,” Moats said.
She said she looked forward to asking her representatives for their support as she and about a dozen other Marylanders lobbied Congress Tuesday.
“We’re hoping for a 6.5 (percent) increase in the funding for NIH and the other institutions that support cancer research, and we’re also asking if they would consider sponsoring a bill to have a national cancer fund that could make sure that people do get the treatment that they need,” Moats said.
But nothing will be accomplished without significant support, said John Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society.
“It will take all of us – a true collaboration,” he said, “to end this disease.”