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Spartans Field Hockey Joins Football Team to Get in the Game and Save A Life

April 25, 2018, 7:01 a.m. (ET)

EAST LANSING, Mich. - April 25, 2018 - The offseason is not always about focusing on doing better on the field. Sometimes it’s what you do outside the lines that makes you better as an individual and a team. For the Michigan State University field hockey team, that came in the form of helping host a bone marrow registry drive on campus.

Last week, the field hockey squad joined the Spartan football team in the “Get in the Game" (GITG) donor recruitment event, encouraging people to register to become a bone marrow donor. More than 200 people lined up throughout the day at the Duffy Daugherty Football building to sign up, and potentially, help save a life.

According to the foundation’s website, every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Each year, tens of thousands of patients diagnosed with life threatening diseases, such as leukemia or lymphoma, find themselves in desperate need of a transplant. The chances of a patient finding a family related donor is only 30%, leaving most patients to rely on an anonymous donor from a registry.

“We were contacted by the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation,” said Helen Knull, MSU Head Coach. “Coach Talley was the football coach at Villanova for 33 years. One of our current freshman, Meredith Ross, her mother works for the foundation. Dino Folino, (Director of Personnel/Player Development), played at Villanova and was contacted also. We connected and then the date, time and drive was created.”

“For a first year drive, I thought that it went very well,” said Ross, MSU freshman striker. “We were able to add over 200 people to the bone marrow registry, which is a number that my mom’s foundation typically strives for at a first time drive. I was so happy that we were able to be involved in having a drive since this is something that I watch my mom do everyday.”

The Spartans helped advertise the event on campus and helped make the process as simple as possible on the drive day. The entire process took anywhere between 5-10 minutes according to Knull. Registrants would arrive and fill out some quick paperwork before heading to the final station for a cheek swab. If participants are a match now, or in the future, to someone on the bone marrow registry, they would receive a call from the Be the Match foundation. Individuals could then go to any local hospital to collect donations, where they may be sent to anywhere in the world.

“The student athletes had to get out of their comfort zone speaking to people on the street, sharing information, checking forms etc.,” added Knull. “I think the selfless act of volunteering for an organization that is way bigger than yourself and can create lifesaving opportunities for those in need is a very valuable lesson. We all think we are busy, don’t have time, are afraid of needles/medical procedures and it just opens your eyes to the fact that we all have extra time to give to help others, and really when faced with a life or death situation many would step up to help a complete stranger. I believe that the avenue of college athletics allows individuals to be exposed to experiences they may not seek out on their own. These experiences help us grow personally and gain knowledge. This was another one of those opportunities.”

Freshman striker Sawyer Post was admittedly timid when the event first began. However, that wasn’t the case for long after talking and convincing the first person she spoke to about registering. It was even more impactful after meeting Clara, who received a life-saving transplant at four months old, and put into perspective how a simple swab can save a life.

“[Clara] was with me throughout the majority of event at the front table telling her story and made a huge impact on our team as well as many other teams and individuals on campus,” said Post. “I believe our team made a huge impact in the community because of this event. Field hockey is not very known in the state of Michigan and on campus we are not as know as our football team, but it was amazing to see the amount of people we got to come sign up for the registry.”

Clara, born April 14, 2010, was diagnosed with leukemia in August of the same year. On January 12, 2011, she received bone marrow from John Stephens, a football player from State University New York College at Cortland, who participated in the GITG program. It is a story of its own that came full circle as Clara, in remission for seven years, as she was present for the Spartans’ first GITG drive, that may perhaps save another life just like her some day.

“MSU field hockey has had multiple players volunteer at Sparrow Hospital in the pediatrics unit and help with a physical education class at Colt Early Childhood Learning Center," said Post. "I have been able to do both throughout this semester and nothing is better than being able to see the smiles on the children's faces when we show up. The community outreach that MSU field hockey does played a huge impact on my decision to come to Michigan State.”

Junior defender Bailey Higgins was no stranger to the Be The Match drive and was exuberant to not only be a part of it once again, but to raise awareness in the Spartan community.

“When Helen [Knull] came to me and told me about this event, I was really excited because it was an organization I was familiar with and I knew they had saved many lives over the years,” commented Higgins. “Even though not everyone that passed came in to register, we made the community more aware of the organization which is a huge step in getting people involved. Michigan State Athletics and the field hockey program are very supportive and encouraging in community outreach. We have been given a platform by being student-athletes and it is crucial we use this to show positivity in the community. I want to leave Michigan State knowing I made an impact on the field, in the classroom and especially in the community.” 

Michigan State is the latest to join the GITG program, which has enlisted nearly 100 other colleges to participate since 2010. It is not the first, nor certainly the last community effort the field hockey team will be a part of. As team building continues for the Spartans off the pitch, players are ever eager to make an impact in their community elsewhere as well.

"We started out with nine teams ten years ago, and this year, will most likely end up with close to 110," said Krista Ross, Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation's Executive Director. "All in all, we have added over 84,000 new donors to the registry. This does not include the drives from spring 2018. Our goal is to add 15,000 by the end of May, bringing us very close to the 100,000 mark. My favorite statistic to share is that we have almost 500 transplants under our belt. That’s 500 second chances at life given to patients thanks to the power of collegiate athletics. Finally, because our drives target the most sought after age range of donors (18-25), we produce one donor who goes on to donate their stem cells or marrow for every 185 people we swab. The national average for a “typical” drive is one in every 430. Our GITG drives are finding donors twice as fast as the national average."

“Our team has been really involved with Athletes for Hope for about a year now,” said Madison O’ Neil, junior defender. “We go into two local elementary schools and play with the kids during their gym class period. More recently, we have gotten involved with a local hospital and a program called Spartan Buddies where we volunteer in the Pediatric Unit.” 

The Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation was founded in November 2010. Coach Talley’s individual involvement in providing opportunities to join the Be the Match Registry date back to 1992. That fall, Talley and his football players registered more than 200 student-athletes and staff on Villanova’s campus. In 2008, Talley partnered with Be the Match to expand those on-campus efforts to form the GITG initiative. For more information, or how you can join the Be the Match registry, click here.