Vs. Cancer

Bluffton baseball takes another swing at cancer

Team lineup

Bluffton University’s baseball team is hitting about 25,000 in its three years of going to bat against childhood cancer.

That’s actually $25,000—the approximate amount of money raised over the last three years by Bluffton baseball players for childhood cancer research and hospitals. The team has raised more than $8,000 each year and on Feb. 27—also for the third straight year—players had their heads shaved in support of cancer victims before embarking on their season-opening, spring-break trip to Florida.

The team partnered this year with the Vs. Cancer Foundation, a charity dedicated to combating childhood cancer. Half of the proceeds will support national cancer research, while the other half will directly aid Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Cancer is the number one cause of death in children, more than 175,000 of whom are diagnosed with the disease every year, according to a 2012 report by the American Cancer Society.

Ben Roeschley, a Bluffton pitcher from Graymont, Ill., was the team’s top fundraiser this year, collecting more than $650 for the cause.

Roeschley, a senior, initially decided to participate as a sophomore to support children who are victims of cancer, but now it’s also become personal for him. “This year, my dad was diagnosed with melanoma,” he said, adding that he would like to continue lending a hand in the battle against the disease.

The team’s coach, James Grandey, who also had his head shaved, is thankful for his team’s contributions, and eager to continue what he and Roeschley agreed has become a tradition.

He also expressed appreciation for the hair stylists from The Curling Iron, a Bluffton business that shut down for part of the day Feb. 27 so the stylists could shave the players’ heads.

Baseball team members weren’t the only ones to go under the razor, either—prodded by donations, several onlookers in Bluffton’s Marbeck Center were shaved, including other coaches.

Dr. Darryl Nester, a professor of mathematics, also participated, having his head shaved for the first time. “I’ve done fundraisers for different things, but nothing like this,” he said.

“Everybody’s been touched by cancer,” he noted. He lost his father to the disease, his brother battled cancer in his early 20s and his niece was diagnosed with neuroblastoma around age 5. He said his participation was in honor of his niece, who is now 13 and undergoing treatment.

Nester believes that purposely going bald makes a significant gesture against cancer. “It’s a lasting statement,” he said.

Campus counselor Rae Staton kept her hair, but she and numerous volunteers made sure the participants can keep their heads warm by crocheting handmade, Bluffton-themed hats.

“I was thinking, ‘My gosh, it’s so cold out there!’” she said. “I think it’s an amazing thing for them to do.”

She drew inspiration for the hat idea during Christmas break, when she picked up crocheting. After successfully crafting a hat for her son, she wrote out the pattern and sent word asking others if they would like to contribute.

Without her generous volunteers to help craft the hats and many donors to buy yarn, Rae said, the project wouldn’t have been possible. “One lady made 48 hats!” she added.

“This has nothing to do with me,” she stressed. “This is just something I wanted to do for the players.”

Still, like many others, she is no stranger to the destructive effects of cancer. “It hits home for me,” she said, having lost her mother to the disease.

Rae was a crisis counselor for the baseball team in 2007 after the March 2 bus accident claimed seven lives and injured many others.

“I have a soft spot for the baseball team,” she said. “It’s quite a sacrifice for those young men to do this.”

As a father of two young daughters, Grandey recognizes the potentially destructive effects of the disease, and is honored that his team has rallied against it for the past three years.

“We didn’t ask them to do this,” he said. “But it’s a way for us to give back.”

by Chay Reigle, Bluffton public relations office