A Day to Remember for the WBCA Boys All Stars

The Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) has been a wonderful supporter of the MACC Fund since the inception of the WBCA All-Star Games in 1978. The WBCA’s Girls and Boys All-Star Games held at the venerable UW Fieldhouse in Madison on June 17 and 18 respectively featured the top high school graduates in the state. This year’s record donation of $130,000 raises the 34-year total to $1.8 million.

One of the highlights each year for the players, coaches and the MACC Fund is the visit to the UW Hospitals and Clinics where the Girls and Boys teams hear from Dr. Paul Sondel, the charismatic leader of the University’s pediatric hematology, oncology, transplant service. This year was no exception when the Girls arrived on Thursday afternoon to hear about the research their fund-raising efforts supported. Following Dr. Sondel’s presentation, the girls heard from a girl one year younger than them who has spent her high school years dealing with cancer having been diagnosed with osteosarcoma as an eighth grader. This young woman was inspirational in every way and undoubtedly left a lasting impression on the teams just like she did on this writer. It is not easy to stand in front of a group of your peers and talk about cancer, but this lovely young woman did with a style and grace which belied her teenage years.

The Boys turn to hear from Dr. Sondel followed on Friday. The auditorium filled quickly and the program proceeded in the expected way highlighted by Dr. Sondel’s understated excellence which quickly captured the attention of the largely teenage audience. Dr. Sondel spoke of the illustrious history of the UW Cancer Center and noted, as he does every year, that the first bone marrow transplant was performed at UW in 1967 by Dr. Fritz Bach. The reference to that great accomplishment was different this year however. To the surprise and delight of all, Dr. Bach was a guest of Dr. Sondel’s in the auditorium. Dr. Sondel followed the commentary showing a picture of this legendary medical pioneer by introducing him to the surprised crowd.

A spontaneous standing ovation ensued to the delight of Dr. Bach’s proud student, and to the embarrassment – to some degree – of Dr. Bach whose stature as a scientific icon exceeded the stature of a room full of basketball players. When the applause finally stopped and everyone was seated, Dr. Bach quietly told the group that the acclaimed accomplishment was one of a team of people just like they were part of a team. Few in the room will ever forget this special meeting, to be sure.

Dr. Sondel’s presentation ended with the introduction of a young man who was a year older than the audience he was addressing. He spoke articulately about his diagnosis of osteosarcoma while he was preparing to play in a football game for the state sectional as a high school junior. He never got to play in that game or in the following state championship game. He never played football again. His story hit home with the young athletes preparing to play in their final game associated with high school, the WBCA All-Star Games.

Dr. Sondel’s fine presentation, the young guest speaker’s eloquence and the chance meeting with the iconic Dr. Bach undoubtedly created a lasting memory for the players and coaches. Dr. Bach is now 77. It is hard to imagine that his pioneering transplant which changed the course of cancer care for generations was accomplished when he was only 33 years old. Imagine the years of preparation and study which led to that in a world where today’s world of computers wasn’t even a dream. It makes the transplant which preceded man’s first steps on the moon by two years even more amazing. Dr. Bach’s vision and the courage to pursue it changed the world for those fighting cancer. Now bone marrow transplants help cure diseases beyond cancer.

Ironically Dr. James Naismith, who became a physician after creating the game of basketball which brought these players and coaches to Dr. Sondel’s presentation, was only 30 years old when he nailed the peach baskets to the wall giving birth to basketball. The similarities between the world changing efforts of these two physicians was not lost on the appreciative Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association’s Boys All-Star teams. They will leave Madison with memories of their All-Star week which extend far beyond the iconic UW Fieldhouse hardwood on which they ply their trade.

Dr. Naismith would be proud of these modern day basketball players. Dr. Bach will undoubtedly remember for years to come the standing ovation by an auditorium filled with players and coaches who joined together to raise funds for the MACC Fund to support the work of one of his prize students, Dr. Paul Sondel. A student whose acclaim extends beyond the borders of the United States and who, like his mentor, is continually looking for better ways to treat people battling cancer.

It was quite a day, indeed. Thanks to Dr. Bach for having the courage to dream, to Dr. Sondel for embracing that dream and to the WBCA Girls and Boys All-Star teams for extending their excellence on Dr. Naismith’s basketball court to support the MACC Fund by raising funds for Dr. Sondel’s outstanding UW research team research which continues to be inspired by a pioneering mentor, Dr. Fritz Bach. It certainly was quite a day.

John Cary, Executive Director

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