by Carolyn Kaberline
LEAVENWORTH — No busted bracket, heartbreaking upset or any March Madness could hold a candle to the one shining moment that happened when two longstanding high school rivals teamed up on the court against cancer.
When Sean Sachen learned of a national Coaches vs. Cancer initiative, the Immaculata High School athletic director could just picture heated hoops, frenzied fans — and a chance to make a difference — in a high school rivalry showdown.
No, he wasn’t making plans for the Final Four.
But the real-life stakes were just as high in his vision for the highly anticipated game against Pleasant Ridge High School on Feb. 21 — the Winter Royalty game at Immaculata.
“In my head I had a vision of our coaches and Pleasant Ridge coaches wearing pink tennis shoes to support breast cancer,” said Sachen. “But then I thought: What about other cancers?”
He posed his idea, tipping off a huge show of support and fundraising effort between both schools.
“I thought it was a great idea,” said Chris Powers, athletic director at Pleasant Ridge. “We’ve done a lot of fundraisers for cancer in the past . . . but the money raised with this fundraiser would stay with the community.”
Both schools, while competitors in sports and academic challenges, always show one another respect and recognize that both belong to the same larger community, said Andy Metsker, Pleasant Ridge principal.
Healthy rivals, one community
“Pleasant Ridge High School and Immaculata High School have a long, healthy rivalry,” said Metsker. “While the schools are separated by only about eight miles of highway and Leavenworth city streets, the two communities are much closer, as many Pleasant Ridge parents are actually Immaculata High School graduates, and many of our students and parents attend the same churches. . . . It’s a good, healthy rivalry.”
Fliers and a Facebook post encouraged fans from both schools to wear a color supporting those with a particular form of cancer, resulting in stands awash that evening in a sea of colors.
“There was a wide range of colors seen in the bleachers, from orange for leukemia to pink for breast cancer to gray for brain cancer,” said Metsker. “We have seen a number of ‘Pink Out’ activities at other games and venues, but this was the first time that we were involved in something that was this widespread in support of the eradication of all forms of cancer.”
The Pleasant Ridge girls defeated Immaculata by a score of 39-32, and the Immaculata boys won their game that night with a score of 48-36. But the real winners were those who received the evening’s proceeds.
“After the boys varsity game was over, Immaculata High School athletic director Sean Sachen took the microphone and announced that the gate receipts from the game were going to be split two ways — with one half going to a family in each community who had been a victim of cancer,” explained Metsker.
“Immaculata chose Mr. John Schubert to receive their half,” said Aaron Hund, Leavenworth Regional Catholic Schools president, adding that supporters of the Schubert family wore gray T-shirts that evening. “Gray is the color representing brain cancer.”
Then Metsker announced the recipient of the Pleasant Ridge half.
“We gave our half to our boys basketball coach Sean Murphy, whose wife was diagnosed with breast cancer after basketball season last year,” he said.
Metsker noted that the fans of the two schools generated a significant sum of money: each family received $585 for their fight against cancer.
For many, knowing that the money raised stayed in the communities was also significant.
“In the past, we have participated in other forms of nights to bring awareness to various forms of cancer,” noted Metsker. “At many of these events, money is collected through the sale of T-shirts or other such things and then it is given to some faceless organization, and we never see the money again. What Immaculata High School organized this past week was significant in that it went to members of the two school communities, and that money will remain in the area to support the needs of the two families.”
‘Gesture of love and generosity’
“It was a very special evening where members of our local communities came together to provide encouragement and financial support for our school families fighting cancer,” said Hund.
“Both families expressed deep appreciation for this gesture of love and generosity,” added Helen Schwinn, Immaculata principal. “Athletic director Sean Sachen is to be credited for organizing this event.”
Sachen would like to see this become a yearly tradition.
In fact, feedback has been so positive that “I’d even like to propose that we do this league-wide on a rivalry night,” said Sachen. “The NCAA does something similar early in the year. It’s NCAA-wide with all teams playing on a certain night donating part of their proceeds to the American Cancer Society.”
“It’s very apparent in this day and age that cancer touches almost everyone’s family and loved ones,” added Schwinn. “We would like to see this outpouring of love and generosity continue in the years to come.”
“Immaculata High School and its administration, Helen Schwinn and Sean Sachen, should be commended for their outstanding work and the leadership and stewardship they showed,” said Metsker. “They are outstanding people and we need more of them in education.”