Salukis fight cancer on the field

By Gus Bode

After he spent a majority of the 2010 football season on the sidelines because of an ankle injury, SIU senior safety Mike McElroy realized he wanted to bring more than a game to the football field.

“A couple years down the road people might forget what you’ve done, how many tackles you’ve had, how many interceptions you’ve had,” McElroy said. “That thought process was, ‘what can we do as a team to kind of leave a legacy here at Southern Illinois?’”

It was McElroy’s compassion and determination to make an impact on the community that inspired the idea for the Salukis Black Out Cancer campaign. SIU Athletics and the American Cancer Society’s Coaches vs. Cancer program announced the campaign Tuesday at a press conference at the Donald Boydston Center.

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The campaign will reach its climax when the SIU football team takes the field against Eastern Illinois University Nov. 2 at the Salukis final home game of the 2011 football season.

Rather than their traditional maroon and white, the Salukis will wear one-time-only black Under Armour jerseys with names of cancer victims on the back to honor those who have fought the disease.

At the press conference, head coach Dale Lennon said the use of non-athlete names on the uniforms made it difficult to gain support from the NCAA. He said after the NCAA approved it, everything seemed to fall into place.

Lennon said the campaign is unique and sets the university apart from others.

“I think it is something very significant. In 25-plus years of coaching college football, I haven’t seen anything quite like this,” he said. “What also makes it special, like most people I’ve had family members affected by cancer. I lost my father three years ago to cancer.”

Fans and members of the community can bid on the website to put a name on the jersey. The 80 people who have the highest bids get priority and will have first choice in which player they want to carry their choice of name on the jersey. After the game, the jerseys will be distributed to those who bid.

All proceeds will be distributed throughout southern Illiinois for cancer research, prevention and rehabilitation.

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“This isn’t about how much I can sell a jersey for. It’s about what we can do to give back to these people and this community,” McElroy said.

Athletic Director Mario Moccia said he is excited about the campaign, not only for the cause but because it differentiates SIU from other competitor schools.

“At our level of football, Southern Illinois, if you can ever say that, hey, you were the first in the nation to do something, that’s pretty special,” Moccia said.

Moccia said it was McElroy who took the reins. He said without the player, the campaign may not of happened.

“(McElroy) called the NCAA. He hounded the heck out of them, and the next thing you know he showed me the waiver,” Moccia said.

Lennon said the campaign is something significant that the team and the community can be a part of.

“It makes it emotional. It makes it something where it’s from the heart, and I’m just excited to be a part of it,” he said.

Bids may be placed online at salukisblackoutcancer.com or by phone at 618-453-5153.

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