By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Frank Boal, celebrity master of ceremonies for the seventh annual Warriors vs. Cancer high school basketball game, knew why he was there.
“Pay it forward,” said Boal, KSHB-TV41 sports anchor and a fixture on the Kansas City sports scene for over three decades.
If you have been given gifts, then it is your responsibility to use those gifts to benefit others, Boal said.
“That’s what high school sports should be about,” Boal said.
“Sure they are dedicated to the game and to winning,” he said, “but they realize there are more important things. This is the way people pay it forward in life by helping others with the gifts you’ve been given. There’s too little of that in life these days.”
A product of Catholic education in his native Pittsburgh, Pa., Boal said he was happy to participate in the annual fund- and awareness-raising event dreamed up by St. Pius X High School Coach Chad Wright and Smithville High School Coach Chad Jones in honor of a man who coached and mentored both of them at William Jewell College — longtime assistant basketball coach Lee Kariker.
Since its inception in 2006 — the only game Kariker attended before his death nine months later — the Warriors vs. Cancer game between the two schools has raised nearly $100,000 for cancer research and the Lee Kariker Scholarship Fund at William Jewell.
And both coaches promised, as they do every year, that the game will continue as long as they are with their respective schools. That’s what Kariker taught them, they said.
“There are just some people who have an affect on your life that lasts forever,” Wright said. “Coach Kariker was one of those people.”
“He has had a huge influence in our lives,” said Jones. “That doesn’t end.”
And, though she never met him, Lee Kariker also had an effect on Mackenzie Martin, a St. Pius X junior who two years ago was diagnosed with Grade 4 melanoma, or skin cancer.
“There are only five grades” of skin cancer, Martin said. Hers was so severe that her doctors prepared her and her parents for the worst possible news — she might not have long to live.
“I was the youngest person ever diagnosed with this in Kansas City, and they told me I would be lucky to make it another two years,” she said.
After surgery and a year of treatment, Martin got the best news possible a year ago.
“The cancer hadn’t spread to my (lymph) nodes and I have been in remission for a year,” she said.
“With melanoma, you are never cancer-free,” she said. “It can always come back.”
So Martin is still fighting.
With the help of family and friends, Martin has launched the Melanoma Miracles Foundation, dedicated to raising awareness and funds in the fight against skin cancer.
She and an army of friends spent the Warriors vs. Cancer game handing out information brochures and selling green and black t-shirts and bracelets touting the upcoming Sunscreen Stroll on May 19.
And the St. Pius student chose the perfect location for the 5,000-meter fun walk — the dam at Smithville Lake.
“There will be lots of fun things to do and opportunities to learn more about melanoma,” Martin said. “We need sponsors, volunteers and teams to raise funds and much more.”
Martin also said she is especially interested in raising awareness among the young that they, like her, are not immune from skin cancer.
It’s the least she can do to pay forward the gift of friendship and support that the students of St. Pius X High School gave to her when she needed them the most.
“I have awesome friends,” Martin said. “Coming back to school, I didn’t know what to expect. But this school is such a family atmosphere. You know everyone, and you feel everyone is supporting you.”
As for the basketball game? For the seventh year in a row, the Warriors of Smithville and the Warriors of St. Pius put on a spectacular show, very much in the style of their coaches’ alma mater, William Jewell College — stifling defense and quick ball-movement, attack-the-basket offense.
This one took two overtimes before Pius’ Luke Hoban drained a pair of free throws with 23 seconds left to stretch a one-point lead to 51-48, and teammate Brian Kaufmann sealed the deal with a steal and lay-up at the buzzer for a 53-48 win.
To learn more about the Melanoma Miracles Foundation and the May 19 Sunscreen Stroll at Smithville Dam, e-mail MelanomaMiracles@att.net, or visit either the Melanoma Miracles Foundation or the Sunscreen Stroll pages on Facebook.