NEW ULM - When head coach Matthew Dick and the New Ulm girls' basketball team decided to have a cancer fundraiser and awareness game this season, they decided to go all out.
By coordinating their efforts with Waseca, the Eagles were able to plan a two-part series with the Bluejays, with each team hosting an event during the two scheduled games between the teams.
Following a successful Coaches vs. Cancer event at Waseca on Jan. 31, the Eagles will take their turn when they host a Shoot for the Cure event at 7:30 p.m. on Monday. All proceeds from the event will be donated to the cancer ward at New Ulm Medical Center.
"It's going to be a fun event that is for a good cause," Dick said. "We hope that we can get as many fans and people in the community out to the gym as possible to support this."
At Monday's game, both teams will wear specially made pink shooting shirts, with fans encouraged to dress in pink as well. There will be special promotions such as a "Best Seat in the House" raffle, a silent auction and a donation bucket that will be passed around for 76 seconds - which is how often someone dies from cancer.
The Eagles' shooting shirts - which were paid for by Citizens Bank - were specially designed by the players. Both teams will be wearing their own shirts, with the two teams showing a kindred spirit by featuring both team's names on their respective shirts.
For the "Best Seat in the House" raffle, the winners will be given a seat on a couch that will be brought in for the event, with refreshments included in the deal. The silent auction will take place in the foyer, with different gift baskets up for grabs.
The final piece of the puzzle for the night to be a success will be getting as big of a crowd as possible to show up for the game.
Now in his fourth year with the program, Dick had considered hosting such an event in the past. With the overwhelming support he received from his players this season, it became clear that this was the year to go through with an event.
"This year the players stepped up because they really wanted to do it," Dick said. "The parents have been great chipping in, helping to get things organized. We made it a goal and a mission to get this done this year."
The team isn't pressuring itself by setting a specific fundraising goal, with its primary focus on creating a memorable event with the platform it has been given.
"I think [the players] are really excited," Dick said. "They've talked a lot about it, they just clearly wanted to do something, because they have this forum to do it. From Day 1, the first day of our first meeting, they've been talking about this and getting it organized, and just making it a fun event, but one that raises money and awareness."
With Dick having previously coached at Waseca, his friendship with Waseca head coach Joan Conway made the arrangement between the two teams a natural fit.
The idea to hold two events in conjunction with each other made sense with the two teams hosting each other just 11 days apart.
"With the change in the schedule this year with us playing each other so close together, it naturally ended up being that we were going to do the two things," Conway said.
With Waseca holding the Coaches vs. Cancer event - the proceeds of which are donated to cancer research by the American Cancer Society - the Eagles decided to mix things up by choosing a different cause to donate to, allowing each event in the two-part series to be unique.
Waseca had hosted two previous Coaches vs. Cancer nights prior to the Jan. 31 event, with the team's efforts having received tremendous support from the community. Supporting the cause has been a very personal matter for the Bluejays, with a number of people connected with the team affected by cancer.
Last summer the cause hit particularly close to home when a freshman on the team lost her father to cancer very unexpectedly. One of the team's senior captains has a mother that is a cancer survivor and Conway has a nephew that has undergone treatment for leukemia.
Waseca has developed its Coaches vs. Cancer fundraiser into a week-long affair, with events during the week including selling cards for a "Wall of Hope" and local businesses holding "dress casual" days to help fundraise.
"When we have it here, they bring in some hairdressers and they do pink hair for the kids, it's quite an event," Conway said. "[Before the game] our girls did hand out roses to the cancer survivors and those affected by cancer, we had somebody in the community step up and donate those. There were not a lot of dry eyes in the place beforehand."
A particular highlight of Waseca's event on Jan. 31 was that English teacher Marc Engesether pledged to have his long hair cut if the event raised at least $3,001, which the Bluejays far surpassed.
"We ended up raising about $4,700 right now," Conway said on Tuesday. "We're trying to go a little bit over that, but that's where we're at right now."
The last time Engesether had his hair cut was at the team's Coaches vs. Cancer event three years ago, which happened to take place during a game against New Ulm. At that game, Dick received some of his inspiration for the Eagles' event this year.
Conway hopes that by experiencing Waseca's event on Jan. 31 the New Ulm players will have gained some extra inspiration as well.
"It takes the kids being involved in it, and hopefully [the New Ulm] kids saw it can be a positive night," Conway said. "Our kids were challenged to raise at least $50 apiece, and we had multiple kids come in over $100."
Despite the massive success Waseca has had with the fundraising aspect of its events - which earned the program a state-wide award for one of its previous events - Conway also emphasizes that raising awareness about cancer is the main goal of hosting such an event.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what they can raise, and regardless if people donate or not I still think it brings awareness to it," Conway said. "You see the teams looking different, and the coaching staff - we're making our donations and we get to wear jeans for the game, which we're very much appreciative of."
The two teams are unsure about future opportunities to combine for such an event. However, if Waseca's Coaches vs. Cancer history is any indication, New Ulm's first Shoot for the Cure event may turn out to be a seed that will grow into a legacy that will continue for years to come.