In honor of former Michigan football player Phil Brabbs, the Michigan football team participated in the University’s Relay for Life event this weekend for the first time in the team’s history.
Relay for Life took place from Saturday to Sunday, with 3,136 University students from 179 teams participating to raise money for the American Cancer Society by walking around the track on Palmer Field for 24 hours. This year, the event raised $268,397 as of late last night, according to Christine Schepeler, co-chair of the University’s Relay For Life.
Among the packed tents on the field was a maize and blue University tent, which housed the football team’s Relay group, the Football Family. The team consisted of 30 registered members from the Michigan football team as well as unregistered football players who came to the event to show their support.
The inspiration for the Football Family team came from Brabbs, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma — a fatal blood cancer — in 2008.
According to the Relay for Life website, Brabbs was diagnosed the day after he turned 28. Since then, he has received chemotherapy treatments and stem cell transplants in an effort to combat the disease, according to Brabbs’s blog called “Multiple Myeloma for dummies.”
Nicholas Koenigsknecht, team captain for the Football Family team, described how he and a few football players came up with the idea to form a Relay team.
“I just noticed that really none of the athletic teams have been involved in Relay for Life, and there are over 135 teams. And then once I heard Phil Brabb’s story, it kind of just motivated me to really kick things off,” said Koenigsknecht, who was on the football team last year. “He’s been very positive toward a very negative thing in his life, and it’s really just an inspiration for a lot of us.”
Zac Ciullo, an offensive lineman on the football team and a member of the Football Family, said in an interview at the event that the football team hoped to get more involved on campus this year and said that participating in Relay for Life would help it achieve that goal.
“We’re going to try to get more involved in the community, so we did this,” Ciullo said. “We did really well on Mock Rock this year and we hope to keep it going.”
To raise money, the football team set up an auction on a site hosted by eBay called MissionFish, which helps nonprofit organizations raise money.
The auctioned-off items included field passes to the football team’s spring game next Saturday, as well as autographed helmets and footballs. The team also offered the opportunity to have “Coffee with Coach Carr.” According to Koenigsknecht, the auction raised about $3,500.
On the day of the event, Football Family raised money by allowing students to attempt to throw a football through a swinging tire. Football coach Rich Rodriguez also stopped by for a few minutes Saturday afternoon, and students could pay $2 to have a picture taken with him. According to Koenigsknecht, the team raised $120 in a half hour from the picture fundraiser.
However, the football team did have some problems in raising money for Relay for Life, due to restrictions set by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Zoltan Mesko, a graduating punter for the Michigan football team, said because members of the group consisted of athletes, they had to follow NCAA rules relating to fundraising, which made things a bit more difficult.
According to the NCAA’s website, student-athletes are allowed to participate in fundraising activities as long as they get written approval from their school’s athletic director, their likeness isn’t use to promote a commercial entity and they meet other guidelines.
“A lot of the things we had to go through, compliances and a lot of things, were kind of hit and miss on whether they were complying with NCAA rules, and whether we were still athletes,” Mesko said in an interview Saturday.
Though the football team’s goal was to raise $35,000 for the American Cancer Society, the Football Family raised $7,300.
Other student participants said they were happy about the football team’s contribution to Relay for Life.
LSA senior Mike Roth, who was at the event with the MRun team, said he thinks it is a good idea for sports teams to get involved with Relay for Life and that more athletic teams should participate.
“Most of the teams, the actual varsity teams, aren’t out here, and it’d be nice to see some of their support,” Roth said.
— Hillary Bok contributed to this report.