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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Coaches step out for cancer awareness

Men’s basketball coaches, Phil Martelli and Geoff Arnold wear matching sneakers to spread cancer awareness. PHOTOS: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

For one week of each college basketball season, coaches across the country ditch their dress shoes in favor of sneakers, taking part in the Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Week to draw attention and raise funds towards cancer prevention.

Coaches vs. Cancer is a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Collegiate men’s basketball coaches across the country team up to raise awareness for the American Cancer Society.

The program has raised over $100 million since 1993. St. Joe’s men’s basketball Head Coach Phil Martelli serves as the chair of the Coaches vs. Cancer Council, which includes some of the biggest names of storied programs in college basketball including Duke University men’s basketball Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Temple University men’s basketball Head Coach Fran Dunphy, and Syracuse University men’s basketball Head Coach Jim Boeheim.

“I consider my involvement to be a responsibility,” Martelli said. “From the very beginning of my career, Coaches vs. Cancer screamed at me as a way to make a difference because all diseases are awful, but cancer’s non-discriminatory. There is no one I’ve ever met that hadn’t been impacted.”

Phil Martelli wearing his sneakers on the sideline

The St. Joe’s basketball community does not have to look very far to find evidence of Martelli’s claim. Assistant men’s basketball coach Geoff Arnold is a prostate cancer survivor himself, having initially been diagnosed in 2013.

“Six, seven years ago, it was something to do,” Arnold said. “[Now] I’m a prostate cancer survivor, so it took on a whole new meaning for me.”

The Hawk coaches were unified in their sneaker choice, wearing grey Nikes with yellow shoe laces in their two games during the Suits and Sneakers Week.

The laces are in memory of “Princess Lacey” Holsworth, a Michigan State college basketball fan who captivated the nation and came to be the brightest part of the Spartan’s NCAA Tournament run to the Elite Eight in 2014. She died at the age of eight in April of that year, shortly after the college basketball season came to a close.

Suits and Sneakers Week is one way to draw attention to the fight against the disease. The target audience is the fans, according to Martelli and Arnold, as they hope the eccentric shoe choices will draw fans across the country to the cause.

“I hope that it sends [fans] somewhere to say ‘how can I get involved?’ ‘What’s my touchpoint for Coaches vs. Cancer?’” Martelli said. “The coaches doing this this week and being on television at a game, if we can get one person to touch it and to feel Coaches vs. Cancer, maybe that blossoms into ultimately finding a cure.”

Coaches wearing their matching sneakers on game day

While Suits and Sneakers Week is currently solely a movement to raise awareness, Martelli hopes to make it into something more tangible.

“We have to figure out a way to monetize this opportunity, we haven’t gotten there yet, but we will,” Martelli said.

While Martelli and the rest of the Coaches vs. Cancer Council will continue to look to benefit the American Cancer Society in any way possible, Director of Athletics Jill Bodensteiner said she’s grateful to have a coach that uses his position to transcend basketball and impact those in need.

“He is a national leader among coaches in fighting cancer and he and [his wife] Judy donate an enormous amount of their personal time and energy to the cause,” Bodensteiner said.

Martelli is very involved in  the movement. He said he could not envision it any other way.

“Once I engaged with Coaches vs. Cancer, to me, there was no option,” Martelli said. “You can’t go into this and put your toes in the water, you have to jump in and get the water over your head and that’s what I’ve done.”

Assistant coach Geoff Arnold wearing his sneakers

His commitment to Coaches vs. Cancer was on full display last week, as he coupled the sneakers with socks, a pin and a tie, all representing Coaches vs. Cancer in the team’s comeback win over Richmond  University and their Big 5 loss to the University of Pennsylvania at the Palestra.

For Martelli and coaches across America, advocating for the cause in any way possible is just a small step in a much greater effort. One that can change the course of human history, according to Martelli.

“There’s so many, so many good people that are backing this that I believe that the cure is on the horizon,” Martelli said. “It may not be in my lifetime, but it’s going to be in [our younger generation’s].”

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