Three years ago, Valparaiso University freshman soccer player Tom Serratore presented his coaching staff with an idea. In high school, he was involved with raising funds for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which helps children with cancer, and he wanted to continue his involvement with the organization in college. It did not take much for him to convince VU head soccer coach Mike Avery that hosting a St. Baldrick’s head shaving benefit was worthwhile.
“It was something that kind of struck a chord with all of us and the staff and throughout the team,” Avery said. “When we talked to our team initially about it, we asked them to just put their hand in the air if they had been affected directly or indirectly by cancer. Almost everybody in the room had their hand in the air.”
The team, university and community have rallied behind the fundraiser, which took place for the third consecutive year on April 21.
“There’s something about the idea of it striking a child that seems especially cruel,” Avery said. “It’s a great cause and we were excited to get behind it.”
The first year the event was held at a local barber’s shop. In 2012, it was moved to the Valparaiso University Student Union, before it was transitioned to the Athletics-Recreation Center this year.
Nearly 90 total heads were shaved, over $22,000 (and counting) was raised and approximately 38 men’s soccer players took part. Other Valparaiso athletes, community members, University President Mark Heckler, Heckler’s wife Veronica and Avery were all among those on the receiving end of the head shaving. Associate head coach Jeff Oleck was this year's event coordinator.
According to Avery, the Crusaders attempt to use their platform as Division-I athletes to reach out and make a difference in people’s lives.
“I think we’re very fortunate,” he said. “We’re able to attract kids that come from diverse backgrounds; our roster literally comes from all over the world. There’s a commonality with all of them that they have this core of character and that’s what we look for in recruiting.”
Avery said St. Baldrick’s has raised more money for childhood cancer research and treatment than any other organization in the world, aside from the United States government. All of the proceeds from the head shaving go directly to the foundation.
Avery, like so many others, has been directly impacted by cancer. He lost his wife’s father to cancer about six years ago, while his mother is currently in the hospital battling a cancer-related issue.
“Unfortunately, it’s a reality in our society right now that almost everybody has somebody that they know who is fighting it,” he said.
Valparaiso University has established a culture that makes service and helping those in need high priorities.
“We hear our President talk all the time about developing future leaders,” Avery said. “I think this kind of event gives young people this platform that they can stand on and develop their leadership skills and see that they can make a difference. That’s the type of student that gets attracted to VU; that’s certainly the type of person that works at VU. It’s a great place and a special place and I’m very proud to work there.”