The 10-minute halftime show during the SUNY Cortland men’s basketball team’s Dec. 3 win over SUNY Potsdam entertained the Corey Gymnasium crowd just as much as the game’s action. And it also shed light on childhood cancer, the number one disease killer of children in the U.S. and Canada.
The top student and staff member fundraisers for SUNY Cortland’s first-ever St. Baldrick’s Foundation event earned head shavings at center court during the basketball game’s intermission. So when Steven Meyer, an athletic trainer in SUNY Cortland’s Kinesiology Department, and Lee Stambouli, a senior athletic training major from Wantagh, N.Y., approached the chairs near the Cortland logo at center court, the crowd backed the pair with applause.
The cheers only grew louder when the locks of hair started falling to the ground.
In all, 12 SUNY Cortland students who are majoring in athletic training and six athletic training staff members shaved their heads during the Dec. 3 women’s and men’s basketball doubleheader. The event, organized by the Cortland College Student Athletic Trainers’ Association (CCSATA), raised more than $4,000 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a national charity that supports childhood cancer research through head-shaving events.
Meyer had toyed with the idea of shaving his head for a few years. So when CCSATA decided to hold its first-ever head-shaving fundraiser, it made sense for him to participate.
“I used to have an afro and I’ve lost a lot of hair over the years,” said Meyer, who lost his sister to cancer when she was 10 years old. “I never had the guts to shave my head. Then when this came along, I thought: 'There’s no better reason to do it.'”
The idea to bring the popular cancer fundraiser to SUNY Cortland came from Patrick Donnelly, an athletic trainer in the Kinesiology Department who organized the event. Donnelly got the idea from a St. Baldrick’s event that pulled in $375,000 in Syracuse, N.Y., this spring.
“We wanted something fun and we wanted something light,” said Donnelly, who also shaved his head. “But we wanted something where we could try to make an impact. Our program has a bit of a history in terms of giving back to the community.”
The Athletic Training Program, which has helped the local Loaves & Fishes food pantry and the Relay for Life all-night cancer awareness event in the past, set an initial fundraising goal of $1,000 for its first St. Baldrick’s shaving.
"So many people, at the College and in the community, helped us get things off of the ground," Donnelly said. "The support we received from the Kinesiology Department and John Cottone, the dean of the School of Professional Studies, was huge. Our hair cutters, Debbie Sweet and Danielle Munro, closed down their Hair Improvement salon for the day and volunteered. It just wouldn't have been possible without them."
A week before the St. Baldrick’s event, Meyer issued a challenge to the athletic training students. He promised that if they could double the $1,500 already raised, he also would part with his hair.
“I wanted to get to $3,000,” said Meyer, who raised close to $700 in the week before the event. “I wanted to help as much as I could.”
Meyer and Stambouli both remained committed to earning the free halftime haircuts. Stambouli had been growing his dark brown hair out for months. It flowed over his ears and touched his neck. Still, he had no reservations about giving it up to raise funds and awareness for childhood cancer.
Steven Meyer, left, and Lee Stambouli have their heads shaved during halftime of the Dec. 1 SUNY Cortland men's basketball game in Corey Gymnasium.
“This is for kids and I couldn’t come up with a better reason to cut my hair than that,” he said.
Members of the basketball crowd, some of them touched personally by childhood cancer, agreed.
“This is something that helps us to help other people not have to face the same thing,” said Ellen Rienhardt, a Camillus, N.Y., resident who lost her 16-year-old son, Craig, to stomach cancer in 2011. Rienhardt attended the event with her husband, Mark, and her niece, Rachel Gleason, a senior kinesiology major from Walton, N.Y., who helped promote the cause during the St. Baldrick’s festivities.
Meyer praised the students who, along with Donnelly, led the head-shaving fundraiser.
“We’re really trying to get the kids comfortable with the giving portion of our lives,” he said. “We have to make sure we think about the people who aren’t as healthy.”
Speaking after the event, he ran his hands across his scalp a few times, still coming to terms with his new buzz cut. In the week leading up to the St. Baldrick’s fundraiser, he felt nervous about how he would look bald.
Afterwards, he harbored no regrets.
“Change is good,” he said. “And you just have to remember: Change can be healthy.”