'Suits and Sneakers' Brings Awareness To Fight Against Cancer

By Matt Breach

Special to GoZags.com

            SPOKANE, Wash. - During an informal news conference earlier in the week, a gaggle of reporters cornered Mark Few and pestered him with the usual barrage of postgame questions. Few's responses, of course, were mostly measured, the type of rhetoric for which coaches have become so famous.

            But his candid reply to one query in particular shocked everyone. The media, the Gonzaga coach reluctantly admitted, has been critical in advancing his cause by spreading the word.

            "Here I am congratulating you guys," he said. "When was the last time I slapped you guys on the back? That's how much it means to me."

            Few's cause, perhaps to the surprise of some, has little to do with wins and losses on the court. Off the court, however, he is willing to do whatever it takes to prevent a loss.

            Few and his wife, Marcy, are co-chairs of the Coaches vs. Cancer initiative in Spokane. During his team's 66-52 win over San Francisco on Saturday, Few and his assistants wore white sneakers to raise awareness about cancer. The disease is the second-most common cause of death in the United States, trailing only heart disease. It is responsible for one in every four deaths.

            The purpose of the white shoes, according to the American Cancer Society, is to remind people of all the ways they can reduce the risk of cancer. It is as simple as eating right, exercising, making healthy lifestyle choices and following recommended cancer-screening guidelines.

            Few's fashion statement has become quite popular in coaching circles. This weekend marks the 10th year of Suits and Sneakers. More than 4,000 college and high school basketball coaches across the country are willingly trading in their Oxfords and penny loafers for white athletic shoes.

            "We are happy to do it," Few said. "Hopefully more and more awareness will happen and we'll save a couple lives because of it."

            Even the fans who packed the McCarthey Athletic Center to watch their beloved Bulldogs collect their 19th win in 21 tries showed their support for the cause. Many of them sported white T-shirts with the word "Believe" emblazoned across the front.

            Gonzaga players also wore the shirts during warm-ups while Few and his coaches donned white polo shirts inscribed with the same sentiment. Before the game, there was a moment of silence to honor all the lives impacted by cancer.

            The Coaches vs. Cancer program is a nationwide collaboration between the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the American Cancer Society. Since its inception 20 years ago, the enterprise has raised more than $85 million.

            Few and his wife established the Coaches vs. Cancer outreach program in Spokane in 2002. Since then, the initiative has generated more than $6 million for the American Cancer Society and other local cancer-fighting organizations.

            "It's been such a cool deal," Few said. "We've met so many people, from kids who have cancer to families to people who want to get involved."

            In addition to the white sneaker game every season, the Fews organize and participate in an annual Coaches vs. Cancer fundraising event. It usually occurs over an August weekend and includes a charity golf tournament, gala, silent auction and celebrity guests. The 2012 edition raised more than $572,000.

            Besides contributing to much-needed cancer research, Coaches vs. Cancer-Spokane has provided critical support to many local organizations. Those that have been the beneficiaries include Hospice of Spokane, Sacred Heart, Ronald McDonald House Charities and Camp Goodtimes.

            "It means everything to Marcy and myself," Few said. "It's been a huge blessing in my life."

            So much so that he doesn't mind dealing with the bothersome media from time to time. It's a small price to pay, he knows, to help so many in need.



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