(From left) Marc Deeley, Andrew Christ, Men’s Hockey Coach Jeff Meredith, Dom Markajani, David Culver, ’02; cancer survivor Sallie (Shapley) Pullano, ’58; Alex Perkins, Greg Wollaston, ’96; Alex Morton and Chris de Bruyn.
“Once we got the pink jerseys, the whole thing just took off!”
That’s how SUNY Fredonia hockey coach Jeff Meredith describes the rapid success of the Blue Devils’ annual Pink the Rink fundraiser that raises money for the American Cancer Society.
And come Saturday, Feb. 12, in the final regular-season game, all 30 players will show that real men – including rugged hockey players – do wear pink, especially to support a worthy cause.
This novel breast cancer awareness promotion started in 2007 with a modest beginning and just a handful of flyers posted around campus – but no pink jerseys.
Since then it has garnered a fervent regional following, plus a dose of nationwide acclaim. Pink the Rink has indeed had a heart-felt impact on players and fans alike.
“It’s an incredible night. It’s just amazing and it’s emotional. A lot of things get really packed into one night,” Coach Meredith said.
“I think our players absolutely love it, and the reaction from our opponents is they think the atmosphere is amazing.”
For the second year in a row, the name of someone stricken by cancer – instead of the player’s name – is placed on the back of the jersey, so it’s seen by everyone in Steele Hall Ice Arena.
“When you put somebody’s name on the back of a jersey as a tribute, as a way to honor them, it just raises the emotional level on the ice and in the crowd to heights I’ve never seen,” the veteran coach said. “There was a feeling last year in that rink – and I’ve been doing this for 23 years – that I’ve never experienced before. It was really amazing.”
Pre-sale of pink jerseys has been a boon for the campaign, not only doubling bids that shirts generated in the early years of the program (when bids were actually placed in jars during the game itself), but also providing valuable lead time so the names of loved ones’ cancer survivors and victims can be mounted on the jerseys before the game.
“You rarely got a $250 bid during those years when they were just bid on, when the average jersey went for $125. Now, we’ve basically doubled that,” Meredith said. “As far as I know, we are the only ones that have put this new kind of twist to it.”
Last year’s game raised more than $9,400, which doubled the prior year’s proceeds and is nearly half of the $20,000 which the fundraiser has generated in its first four years.
College hockey teams in Rochester, Syracuse and Albany have picked up, well, the puck, and launched their own Pink the Rink fundraisers, but SUNY Fredonia’s is the only one with such a fundraiser in the seven counties that comprise the American Cancer Society’s Western New York region, according to Stacie Waddell, the western region’s special events director, based in Buffalo.
“Coach Meredith’s idea last year to pre-sell the jerseys in honor/memory of someone is unique to our region, and was a smashing success last year,” Waddell said. “This…gives participants an opportunity to remember those they love that have had to face cancer, and while we ‘pink’ the rink for breast cancer awareness, last year there were several people on jerseys that battled other forms of cancer.”
The Blue Devils received a “tip of the helmet” last year from RIT’s hockey coach, who acknowledged Fredonia as the school that launched Pink the Rink, Meredith added.
While pink jersey pre-sales generate most of the event’s proceeds, the coffers get an additional boost from ancillary promotions, such as a Tau Sigma raffle and sales of shirts and hats, and pink drinks served by Buster Brown Bean Co., along with additional contributions. All proceeds are given to the Buffalo chapter of the American Cancer Society to fund research, patient services programs and educational efforts. More than 200,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2010.
As of Nov. 5 – 100 days before this season’s game – half of the available 30 pink jerseys had already been sold, with players and members of their families being among the first to snatch up a jersey.
Three players, Tyler Palmerton, Brett Mueller and Dave Ridos, will wear jerseys purchased by their families in honor of family members, two great-grandmothers and an uncle, who passed away due to cancer.
Jessica Webber, a SUNY Fredonia student whose seven-year battle with cancer ended Jan. 6, 2010, was honored last year with her name on a jersey worn by Bryan Ross, donated to the Sigma Kappa sorority and Delta Chi fraternity, and purchased by professors Alberto and Janeil Rey.
A video presenting highlights of last year’s event was produced by students Jake Nowak, Chris DiCesare and Collin Hopkins and placed on YouTube, where it’s been an inspiration and comfort to those who continue to battle the disease, including Elle Woloszuk.
The Rochester, N.Y., woman lost her father to cancer and was stricken by the disease in 2007 when she was pregnant with her fourth child. Continued viewings of the video, forwarded to her by SUNY Fredonia IT employee Janet Mayer, have given her new courage to fight the disease when she’s tempted to give up. Woloszuk’s family honored her with a jersey, worn by Brett Mueller, that Mayer, her cousin and childhood friend, purchased.
“Coach Meredith has been incredible, and I appreciate his commitment to hosting this event each year and for choosing the American Cancer Society to be the recipients,” Waddell said.