Athletes hold court in battle against cancer


On a day when the ground outside was covered with mounds of winter white, inside Ethical Culture Fieldston’s gym, the theme was pink — the international symbol of breast cancer awareness.

Players from 28 basketball teams donned pink ribbons in their hair or pink socks, shirts and shoelaces. Some of the teams won, others not, but the players had much loftier goals than simply reaching the 10-foot hoops at which they were shooting.

They were participants in the annual Coaches vs. Cancer High School Basketball Classic, held at Ethical Culture Fieldston School the last two weekends.

Boys’ and girls’ teams from all three local private schools — Fieldston, Horace Mann and Riverdale — played in the event, along with several Catholic high schools from across the city.

Each boys and girls team played only one game during the tournaments. No playoff rounds were held, nor champions crowned.

Coaches vs. Cancer was originally held on some college campuses across the country. It was brought to the local high school level by Ray Barile, longtime coach and Associate Director of Athletics at Horace Mann.

“Syracuse University Coach Jim Boeheim sent out a flyer asking high school coaches to take part in the program, so I thought, ‘why not here?’” said Mr. Barile, in the midst of Sunday’s girls’ tournament.

Barile’s decision to start the local fundraisers occurred at about the same time his grandmother Agnus lost her life to lung cancer.

“Seeing what cancer did to her body was not pleasant,” he said.

In the first year of the boys’ tournament, only six teams, including Fieldston and Horace Mann participated, raising about $2,700 for Cancer research, Mr. Barile said.

This year, the boys’ tourney, held on Feb. 2, raised about 10 times that amount, with 14 schools participating.

In 2006, Mr. Barile and Fieldston Athletic Director Steve Bluth started a girls’ tournament with 12 teams, raising $8,000. Sunday’s tournament involved 14 teams and raised about $17,000 dollars.

All told, the two tournaments have raised close to $400,000 since their inception, Barile estimated.

“Frankly, cancer scares the heck out of me,” admitted Bluth. “We all have to worry about this disease.”

Mr. Bluth said Coaches vs. Cancer is an easy way to contribute.

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