The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life will not be held in McDaniel’s newly-renovated stadium this year. The night-long fundraiser, which stipulates that one member of each participating team must be walking or running throughout the event, will be held in Gill Gymnasium Center.
In 2010 and 2011, when Relay for Life was held outdoors, McDaniel’s Relay for life raised $32,848 and $26,579, respectively. Last year in 2012, when the event was held in the gym due to construction of the stadium, $18,103 was raised. At press time, just over $13,000 had been raised by McDaniel’s Relay for Life participants this year. At its peak in 2010 when the event was held outdoors, 439 people participated. When it was held inside in 2012, however, Relay for Life drew 278 participants.
Relay for Life was founded on an outdoor track. When Dr. Gordy Klatt of Tacoma, Washington decided that he wanted to raise funds for The American Cancer Society in 1985, he did so by spending 24 hours on his local track, logging over 80 miles. Friends, family and patients donated to spend 30 minutes running or walking with him. By the end of the night, he had raised $27,000 and started what would become the worldwide movement that is Relay for Life.
As it evolved and grew, elements of Relay for Life became standardized and deeply rooted in the use of the track. The survivor’s walk, one of the opening elements of the 12-hour fundraising event, invites survivors to take the first lap of the night in order to celebrate their success and be recognized for their battle. A luminary ceremony occurring after dark to commemorate those who have lost the fight to cancer also traditionally entails the use of an outdoor facility.
McDaniel’s Relay for Life Executive Committee, headed by Michelle Woshner, began planning to use the stadium and booked the space in October with the intention of holding the Relay for Life from 6PM to 6AM, as specified by the national organization. They were informed that there was a possibility that sports teams would need the stadium’s field for practice during part of the time that they had reserved the space.
“In early November there was a possibility that the [women’s] lacrosse team might be practicing, but the ‘might’ remained up until the beginning of April when they actually decided that practice would be from 6-7:30, knowing full well that Relay was on the schedule,” said Woshner.
Upon the confirmation that the times of the intended start of Relay for Life and women’s lacrosse practice would overlap, the Relay for Life Executive Committee found themselves with various options for moving forward, such as running the opening ceremony and survivor’s lap concurrently with the lacrosse practice, holding the opening ceremony in one of the quads and then moving down into the stadium after the lacrosse practice ended, or moving into the gym for the entire evening. For those organizing the event, all of these options proved problematic and they began to search for further options.
Of the seven month decision period, Christine Workman, Director of Student Engagement, suggested that planning to have Relay for Life in the stadium may have occurred “without realizing what [the Athletics department] had said…I think the issue is that anytime you reserve space you have to remember that you might have to make concessions, especially with athletic facilities.”
Andrew Keogh, the Team Retention Head of the Relay for Life Executive Committee, explained his hesitations with compromising the use of the stadium and his fears about sharing space with a practicing team, saying, “We cannot take the chance of anyone, especially a cancer survivor, getting hit with a lacrosse ball.”
Additionally, Keogh expressed that holding the ceremony during lacrosse practice would prove problematic because Relay for Life would not be able to play music during the survivor’s lap, as he was told that it might distract the practicing team. His request to hold the opening ceremony near the baseball field above the stadium and move onto the track after the lacrosse practice had ended was never answered.
“The concessions that Relay for Life are required to make are greater than what we asked [of the Athletics Department],” Keogh said.
Keogh also proposed compromises to the women’s lacrosse coach, Marjorie Bliss, such as moving the lacrosse practice time to an earlier slot, but was informed that this was implausible due to the class schedules of some team members.
When the Free Press attempted to reach Bliss for comment, they were directed to Athletic Director Paul Moyer, who asserted, “Relay for Life just did not like the answer they received so the leaders choose to run around campus and talk to other folks to try and get the answer changed.”
Upon considering the option of holding the opening ceremony elsewhere, the Relay for Life Executive Committee ultimately decided against using two separate locations because, according to Keogh, “two different locations would be difficult logistically. We wanted a central location. There are too many people, too many things to move across campus for that to be plausible.”
The Executive Committee also feared losing student and community support, and therefore donations, if there was a location change after the opening ceremony. A substantial portion of money raised by Relay for Life occurs at the event itself through fundraisers organized by the participating teams.
According to Woshner, “The biggest pro that we’ve experienced is that we draw a lot more donations when we are in the stadium as opposed to the gym, and that is the main goal of Relay for Life.”
“Last year’s Relay just wasn’t as successful in terms of numbers or fundraising,” Keogh explained. “For a college that values service and philanthropy as much as we do, it’s a shame that sports have priority over the biggest student-run fundraiser.”
Athletic Director Moyer voiced concern for the lacrosse players practicing for a game the next morning, however, saying, “I would hope in the future, as in the past, the Relay for Life committee would understand we will not displace one student group for another.”
Workman, Director of Student Engagement also looks to the future, saying that it is necessary for all involved parties to “have a unified communication plan.”
“It’s unfortunate that we had to scramble like this” acknowledged Woshner. “But the fact of the matter is that we have a jam-packed schedule full of fun activities, and it’s going to be a great night where we can celebrate those we know who have beaten cancer and honor those we’ve lost.”
Author’s Note 4/26/13: “Melissa Bliss” was changed to “Marjorie Bliss”