Comedy Against Cancer

In its 11th year, Coaches vs. Cancer goes from black-tie gala to hosting one of the top performers in comedy

When Marcy Few went to a benefit event in North Carolina, the wife of Gonzaga head basketball coach Mark Few couldn’t have known she’d leave that night with a multi-million dollar idea — one that would literally change hundreds of lives.

It was simple: university coaches harness community support to benefit a cause — and after hearing about the success of a benefit supporting cancer patients started by coach Jim Boeheim of Syracuse University and his wife, Juli — the Fews became convinced they could replicate it back home.

“[Juli] had heard about the fan support we have and the community involvement around Gonzaga basketball and said it would be a perfect opportunity for us to raise a lot of money for a great cause,” says Few.

So, with little experience in fundraising, the Fews established the Spokane Coaches vs. Cancer fundraiser, which benefits a host of local and national organizations dedicated to cancer research and patient care.

Though there are many like it across the country, Spokane’s event in particular has grown from what Marcy Few describes as a “small, grassroots effort” into one of the most successful CvC benefits in the country, raising more than $5.4 million during its 10-year run. That means tens, and sometimes hundreds, of thousands of dollars are going directly toward the care of local cancer patients.

“It made me see the impact that raising money for the cause actually has,” says Few. “We’ve had a lot of direct impact on people … where we’ve been able to provide money for actual things.”

Things like the Ronald McDonald House of Spokane’s “family room” at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, where children fighting cancer and their families can go to eat, do laundry or take a break, is used by 100 people daily, says Mike Forness, executive director of RMH charities in Spokane.

While the Fews can boast considerable success, they decided this year to ditch the black ties and host a portion of the event that the entire community is invited to attend. Few says they were looking for an A-list entertainer — someone who would be in demand. They put out the request and comedian Jim Gaffigan stepped up to the plate to headline Saturday night’s Evening with Coaches vs. Cancer event.

“The addition of [Gaffigan] is going to be the fun part of the event,” says Few, who acknowledges this will be a step away from the usual weighty feel of CvC. “Yes you will cry, but also you will laugh together. Anyone that attends this year is going to walk away doing both.”

With the added ticket sales from Gaffigan’s show, Few hopes to stretch CvC’s success even further.

“They go from somewhat living a normal life, to a whole new language,” says Few. “Their lives literally change overnight, and it’s important to have something in place for people and their families that are going through this.”

Camp Goodtimes East, a special summer camp for kids fighting cancer, has been one of the largest recipients of funds raised at CvC — to the tune of $856,000 in the 10 years it has been associated with the benefit.

“It’s their chance to let loose and just be a normal kid,” says Marilyn Taylor, a 16-year veteran counselor at the camp and a survivor of breast cancer. “For most of these kids, being sick is the only way they’ve ever known how to feel.”

Located at Ross Point in Post Falls, Camp Goodtimes offers kids from all over the region and as far away as North Dakota and Wyoming a chance to be independent and understood. This summer, Taylor says that she and the rest of the volunteer staff of 80, including a full medical team specializing in cancer care, were able to offer 138 kids fighting cancer, their friends and/or siblings a week of archery, crafts and campfires at no charge — a week that most families couldn’t afford otherwise. Its success is in large part due to the camp’s partnership with CvC.

“I get to see what those donor dollars do and the difference it makes,” says Taylor, who also does volunteer work with Coaches vs. Cancer.

Years ago, Taylor says the camp started a new tradition: After campfire on the final night, each camper was given a birthday candle in a small boat made out of a walnut shell. After making a wish, they placed their boats in a lagoon.

“The third child to get the walnut shell boat from me said, ‘Oh, I won’t be here next summer,’” says Taylor. She asked what he meant, and he replied that he wouldn’t be alive next summer. “I said, ‘you go light that candle, make that wish and I’ll see you next summer.’”

Taylor says that was seven years ago, and he’s been back every summer since. And with the Fews’ strong push behind Coaches vs. Cancer, more kids are able to keep returning. Few only expects the impact of the fundraiser to keep growing. 

An Evening With Coaches vs. Cancer • Sat, Aug. 25 at 8 pm • Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox • 1001 W. Sprague Ave. • $75-$150 •

Alice in Wonderland @ Spokane Children's Theatre

Fridays-Sundays. Continues through June 5
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