In the United States, 10,590 children were diagnosed with childhood cancer in 2018, according to the American Cancer Society. For the last three years, University of Oregon athletes have partnered with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, to help bring awareness to this issue. Initially a project started by the soccer team, is now organized by “O Heroes” and includes lacrosse, track and field and women’s tennis.
Caitlyn Wong, who graduated from Oregon last year where she was a biochemistry major and a captain of the soccer team, was the original catalyst for the creation of St. Baldrick's festival. She became interested in solutions for childhood cancer and with Tom Serratore, a former graduate student assistant coach, partnered with St. Baldrick’s to host the first event two years ago.
The third annual St. Baldrick’s festival will be held this Sunday at Papé Field from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. This year’s marquee event is the dodgeball tournament that university students will participate in. However, the most meaningful event is the head shaving.
Participants shave their head as a sign of solidarity for children who are currently battling cancer or who have passed away. Mario Cristobal, the head coach of Oregon football, will participate in the event for the second straight year. Last year, Oregon women’s basketball forward Satou Sabally shaved Cristobal’s head. Sabally has raised nearly $4,000 as of Thursday afternoon.
Children who are currently fighting cancer and their families will participate and be honored in the festival. There will be a carnvial atmosphere with corn hole and spike ball, food trucks and a photo booth.
There will also be a silent auction that will allow those in attendance to bid on Oregon memorabilia. This includes an autographed football by former Oregon quarterback and Heisman winner Marcus Mariota and an autographed basketball from the Oregon women’s basketball 2018-19 team that went to the Final Four.
“Our goal is to bring awareness and get people clued into the issue of childhood cancer,” said Emily Kaestner, one of the lead student organizers of St Baldrick’s festival. Kaestner is a midfielder for Oregon soccer and will be graduating in the fall. Kaestner has already raised $3,200 this year. Other top fundraisers include soccer and softball public address announcer Peg Rees and assistant soccer coach Manny Martins, who have raised more than $1,000 each.
Next year, freshman Derek Akey, a discus thrower on the track and field team, will be a principal leader of the event. Akey currently is involved in coordination and outreach to local business.
“It's an honor to be able to represent them (children) and their families and be a touching part of the event,” Akey said.
After raising $32,000 in their first two years, event organizers hope to raise $40,000 this year. Overall, Oregon athletes have raised $70,000 for childhood cancer awareness in the last two years. The link to donate is: https://www.stbaldricks.org/events/UO2019.
“It’s about honoring kids going through the fight of cancer,” Kaestner said.