Road Trip Dad - Nothing virtual about this year’s St. Baldrick’s fundraiser
Dan Witmer | March 29, 2021
If you’ve heard about the 11-year old boy in Colorado handing out flowers to employees at some King Soopers grocery stores the day after the shooting in Boulder, I want you to know that that’s my cousin’s son. JJ is one special kid, and I couldn’t be more proud of him or his mom, Jody.

Fittingly, this week’s RTD blog is simply about doing things for others. It’s a theme I’ve written about before, and I’d say the odds are pretty good that I’ll probably come back to it again and again.

It doesn’t take a lot of money. It doesn’t have to be big. It just takes heart, I guess.

For the past 15 years, I’ve organized Oswego County’s very own annual fundraising campaign for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises funds for life-saving childhood cancer research. What started with the Oswego State men’s lacrosse team in 2007 has evolved into a core committee of volunteers that works for about four or five months every winter/spring and has, over 14 years, raised more than $820,000.

We operate in the shadow of the annual event at Kitty Hoynes in Syracuse, which has raised a half million dollars in some years and is one of the biggest St. Baldrick’s fundraisers in the world. But there have been quite a few years when our Oswego County fundraiser was the second-largest in Upstate NY.

Please don’t misread this and think, “Geez, this guy’s full of himself.” Instead, I want to talk about other people.

People like another 11-year old, Gabby Martin, of Oswego. For her birthday last month, she didn’t want presents. Instead, she wanted to collect donations for St. Baldrick’s. She set a goal of $250, and she ended up raising $390 – so far. And this week, she sent me a Thank You note: “Thank you so much for helping me raise money for St. Baldrick’s. I really appreciate you supporting me. I was able to raise more than my goal!”

I’ve never met Gabby, and I certainly wasn’t expecting a thank you card from her. But that kid helped make my week.

For the second year in a row now, our 2021 St. Baldrick’s fundraiser won’t culminate in a face-to-face event complete with shavees, barbers, raffles, music, smiles, tears, and hundreds of photographs. Instead, it’s all “virtual” – a term used by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to mean no in-person, large gatherings. Shavees can shave whenever and wherever they want. They can post photos or video on social media, or they can shave in the privacy of their own home and keep things low-key.

So I didn’t spend months writing requests for raffle donations like I’ve done in the past. Instead, I’ve posted a couple of announcements on Facebook and kept the planning committee up to date with weekly emails. No face-to-face meetings, not even a Zoom.

And you know what? Our 2021 St. Baldrick’s fundraising link is going great! Our 2021 website showed $37,169 as of yesterday afternoon.

Now, we’ve had years when we raised $17K (our very first year, and we thought that was awesome!) and three years when we flirted with $100,000 ($93K in 2013, $95K in 2014, and $97K in 2015). For the past nine years, we’ve consistently raised more than $50,000, even last year, when we were going at record pace until March 15, just two weeks before our scheduled event, and the world shut down and donations froze at $63,000.

Again, it’s not about me. It’s about people like the faculty at Mexico Academy down Route 104. Last year they did a “Jeans Day” and donated over $100 to our fundraiser. This year I didn’t even ask schools to participate – no two schools seem to be doing the same kind of instruction these days, so I didn’t bother. But, sure enough, last week I got an email – “Are you doing St. Baldrick’s again this year? We’re doing another Jeans Day and we’d like to make a donation.” Out of the blue. They raised $110 this year.

Or the Bearded Brethren. On the St. Baldrick’s website, shavees and volunteers are encouraged to register as teams, as experience shows greater results. So a handful of my former Hannibal students – usually three or four big, bearded fellows – register and proceed to raise about $1,000 or so. I never recruited them; I’m not sure exactly why they support the cause, but they’re on board every year. And they’re back for 2021, showing a little more than $1,000 last I checked.

And there’s Kamryn Pritchard, a 14-year old hockey and baseball player from Oswego who’s been shaving and raising money with us since he was 7. He followed in the footsteps of some older Oswego Minor Hockey players who shaved from elementary school through high school, but they’ve moved on to college and beyond, and right now Kam is team captain and sole member of the OMHA fundraising team. Last I checked, he’s more than halfway towards his goal of $1,000.

Jackie McKelvie of Hannibal has been a loyal shavee for four years now. Her children were in my English classes way back when. Until this past week, her account showed $0.00 raised; then I got an email from her the other day that began, “I have $500.00 that I need to donate…”

Good people, doing good things.

The daughter of Fulton Police Chief Craig Westbrook was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, and for the past two years, his department has supported our event in numbers. The good news this year is that she has completed her treatments and is now in good health.

But guess what? The Fulton Police Benevolent Association supported men’s health awareness with No-Shave November this past fall and then just kept fundraising. Their St. Baldrick’s fundraising team consists of 21members and, together, they’ve raised more than $10,400.

And since head men’s lacrosse coach Drew Bezek came to Oswego State in 2014, the Lakers have resumeded their tradition of supporting St. Baldrick’s. This year, in a college semester that has far more questions than answers, they’re back again. They’ve had their first three games canceled or postponed, and their season may or may not happen, but there they are, registered and raising money to “help take childhood back from cancer.”

And two other lacrosse people – my sons Brian and Eric – are also on board this year. Both have been involved with St. Baldrick’s fundraising in the past; one of my Proudest Papa moments was when they were at SUNY Brockport and took the initiative to start an annual fundraiser on their campus. In more recent years, Brian has been prone to loooong hair, and in 2018 he shaved his head while in Prague, collecting donations via social media as well as passing the helmet between games at the Ales Hrebesky Memorial in Radotin. Eric has supported Denver St. Baldrick’s events in recent years, too, but this year they both agreed to join in Oswego’s – long distance – once again from the Czech Republic and Denver, Colorado.

Brian set his fundraising goal at $3,000 and currently shows more than $3,300 on his account. Eric is just getting started; his link says his goal is $1,000, but my guess is that he’ll try to outdo his older brother. If he tries, I’m pretty certain he’ll succeed.

Good people, doing good things.

Like Rich Wagner, one of my former players at Oswego State. Instead of me telling you about Rich and his family, I asked him to tell his own story…

He says, “I first  heard about the St. Baldrick's Foundation about 14 years ago, when the Oswego State men’s lacrosse  team started their  annual event. Coach Witmer sent letters out to the Laker alumni promoting the event and asking for donations. I donated a couple times, but didn’t know much about pediatric cancer.

Then, in July 2017, our 13-year old son, Nate, was diagnosed with Stage 4 high risk neuroblastoma, an aggressive cancer that forms in developing nerve cells.  Nate endured chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and several surgeries  over the next 33 months.

Sadly he lost his fight on March 30, 2020 at the age of 16.

During his fight, Nate was treated at Upstate Hospital in Syracuse and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), one of the nation's leaders in neuroblastoma cancer research.  The doctors at CHOP are research doctors, dedicated  to improving survival rates and finding better treatments for this disease. In addition, they are looking to reduce the side effects of treatments, like hair loss, hearing loss, weak bones, and nerve damage.

Nate benefitted from the research being done at CHOP and elsewhere. While current treatments could not bring Nate a cure, it gave him more days with his family, time with his friends, time hunting and fishing, watching his brothers play lacrosse, to get his driving permit,  and time to be a teenage kid. With more research, I am confident that the doctors will discover new therapies and medications to beat this disease.

In 2018, I joined St. Baldrick's and the fight against all pediatric cancers. Since then, our Team #22 fundraising teams have raised over $64,000 for the St. Baldrick's Foundation.

St. Baldrick's has funded over $26 million dollars in neuroblastoma-related research since 2005, including supporting research at CHOP. In 2020, St. Baldrick's awarded more than $19 million dollars to fund pediatric research.

Please take a few minutes to review  www.stbaldricks.org/why-we-exist  and learn more about the challenges of treating pediatric cancer and the need for research funding.

Also, please consider making a donation or joining a team to raise awareness and funds for more research.  Go to the 15th Annual Oswego page to donate  or join a team: https://www.stbaldricks.org/events/OswegoCounty2021

Research will find a cure, and together we can make a difference. #StrongerTogether  #NoOneFightsAlone.”

Rich and Beth Wagner’s oldest son Zach played lacrosse at St. John Fisher, graduating in 2019 after earning all-league and North/South Game honors; their middle son Dale is a senior midfielder and captain at Utica College this spring. He changed his jersey number to #22, the number Nate wore through his years at Jordan-Elbridge.

Rich, his family, and friends don’t have to continue to raise money for St. Baldrick’s and childhood cancer research; surely no one would blame them if they opted out. But that’s not what they’ve decided to do. Currently Team #22 has nine members and their link shows $19,050 raised for our Oswego event; Rich set his team’s goal at $25,000, and my guess is that they won’t quit for the year till they reach it.

In these crazy times, “virtual” has become part of our everyday lexicon. A year ago, it was used to describe hi-technology glasses you could wear to put you in foreign or make-believe settings. Now it’s used to indicate that the meeting, the road race, the tour of the museum, or the live concert is to be conducted via the internet.

Even the St. Baldrick’s Foundation uses the term, but I’m not sure that I’m buying it. For these kids, these families, these shavees and volunteers – to them, it’s not make-believe. The passion, the purpose, the smiles and tears, and the determination are anything but virtual.

They’re all very real.

Coaches, what are your teams doing to help others? Parents, what are your children and their teams doing for their community? Players, what are you and your teammates capable of?

Singer/songwriter Harry Chapin used to give 50% of his concert proceeds to charities, and helped create WhyHunger. He wrote a lot of memorable words, but the phrase I like best of all is, “When in doubt, do something.”

You can support St. Baldrick’s, whether it’s Team #22 or any of our other 11 fundraising teams. And it’s not too late to register as a shavee or volunteer, or join or create a team. And it’s never too late to make a donation.

Or you can raise money for Griffin’s Guardians, Alex’s Lemonade Stand, HEADStrong, Wounded Warrior, or Special Olympics, or you can donate blood, or you and your friends can spend a few hours helping your local food pantry or Blessings in a Backpack effort. You get the idea. You can do something all by yourself, or you can involve your whole team.

Churchill is credited with saying, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

So, please, “do something.”

Thanks – I promise to get back to some lacrosse topics next week. In the meantime, please drive carefully, stay safe, stay smart, and stay kind.

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of three books.  The Best of Road Trip Dad – The Laker Lacrosse Collection  is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland.  … and piles to go before I sleep – The Book of Wit is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore. His third book, The Best of RTD – A Lacrosse Coach’s Handbook, has just been released at Amazon.com. It contains more than 55 weekly Road Trip Dad blogs spanning 2012-2020, featuring Xs and Os, highs and lows, and even some Dos and Don'ts, and plenty of advice for coaches of all levels.