Daily Egyptian

Salukis raise funds to blackout cancer

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

This weekend the SIU football team challenges No. 10 Liberty Flames and the second leading cause of death in the U.S. — cancer.

Saturday’s matchup marks the fifth annual Salukis Blackout Cancer game, benefitting the Southern Illinois Healthcare Cancer Institute. 

Donors bid on customized black jerseys to be worn by players Saturday. The jerseys are given to donors on the field after the game. 

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This year, the blackout game has raised more than $29,000. More than $160,000 has been raised in the previous four years. 

The top 80 bidders have names placed on the jerseys, and athletes’ families often bid. This year, eight players’ families and former players Jayson Dimanche and Kenneth Boatright contributed.

Sophomore fullback Hans Carmien’s family bid on a jersey this year in honor of his grandfather who died of lymphoma in 2002.

“It’ll certainly feel different having his name on the back of the jersey,” he said. “This game will certainly be more memorable.” 

Coach Dale Lennon, who lost his father to cancer, knows how much this game means to the community.

“Everyone has been affected by cancer,” he said. “I’ll do whatever I can to support the cause. If we can raise some money playing a football game to support cancer research, then let’s do it.”

Former Saluki safety Mike McElroy started the event in 2011. He said the idea was inspired by a similar fundraiser at Lowell High School in Michigan, where he attended.  

“[The football team] had pink jerseys with the names on the back, and it was a huge community event and a huge success,” he said. “So I thought it was a good idea to bring to the collegiate level.”

McElroy said a broken ankle his senior year left him wondering if he made an impression in southern Illinois.

“I started looking into what this would look like and how it would come together, and just saw the impact I think it could have on the community,” he said. 

McElroy said the original fundraiser was not easy to set up. Lennon had to help with paperwork to obtain NCAA approval. The NCAA regulates what types and modes of fundraising can be done at collegiate games. 

Lennon said the university was originally granted a one-year clearance from the NCAA for the event, and would have to apply again every year before annual clearance was granted. 

SIH used part of the funds raised to build a comprehensive cancer institute in Carterville, the first of its kind in southern Illinois.  

Tanna Morgan, SIH director of funds management, said with the institute completed, all funds raised from the blackout game now go to patient care. 

“Sometimes people get treatment and can’t go home or need gas cards, so all these funds go back towards the patients at the cancer center,” she said. 

The cancer center has brought services closer to the southern Illinois community.

“I actually have been talking to a lady who gets very emotional and tells me the cancer center saved her life,” Morgan said. “She had breast cancer and was able to do all her chemotherapy and everything here. She didn’t have to go to St. Louis and was able to stay close to home.”

Athletic director Tommy Bell said he is happy with the event. 

“We love our affiliation with SIH and that whole initiative and what it brings to southern Illinois, so we’re excited to help out,” Bell said. 

Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SCarleyDE

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