A Pickleball Tournament with a Higher Cause

Paddling for Cancer 01

By: Bill Kuerz

There are many reasons an organization decides to have a tournament.  They may need new courts, lights, nets….whatever.  And then, the organization might take up a higher cause. In Klamath Falls, Oregon members of a local club called the Klamath Basin Pickleball Association, formed the Paddling for Childhood Cancer (PFCC) committee.  The committee was composed of a dozen or so individuals of various backgrounds and specialties focused on one purpose – to raise funds for local families who have a child with cancer.

Our origin was from one of our members’ daughter going through treatments for Leukemia.  Originally, the objective was to raise funds for them.  They immediately dismissed the thought and pointed to another family in greater need, appears to be a common trait of these families.  The family we chose had a daughter ironically named Faith, who had neuroblastoma (“a cancerous tumor that begins in nerve tissue of infants and very young children.” [1]).  Sadly, she passed before we finished fund raising but none the less, we provided a small financial relief to the family.  She is our legacy and her name is on our server band and says; “Keep the Faith.”

“The average cost associated with childhood cancer is a startling $833,000. Ninety percent of NCCS families surveyed said they experienced an increase in expenses as a direct result of a child’s diagnosis.  Sadly, nearly 40 new families will hear the dreaded words, “your child has cancer,” every single day.”[2]  “Nearly all (94%) families indicted some type of disruption, with at least 1 parent having to quit a job due to their child’s illness in 42% of cases.”[3]

“In the United States in 2020, an estimated 11,050 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed among children from birth to 14 years, and about 1,190 children are expected to die from the disease. Although cancer death rates for this age group have declined by 65 percent from 1970 to 2016, cancer remains the leading cause of death from disease among children. The most common types of cancer diagnosed in children ages 0 to 14 years are leukemias, brain and other central nervous system (CNS) tumors, and lymphomas.”[4]

As a point of reference, we decided since we were soliciting for donations from businesses and individuals, that we were soliciting on behalf of the families and thus those funds would go to them.  The tournament entry fees were to cover expenses for the tournament and to expand awareness for the cause.

We did a podcast, Instagram, Facebook, radio advertising and radio interviews to publicize the cause and the tournament.  We did not receive much monetarily from these efforts but did raise community awareness of childhood cancer and support for the local families.  In the future, we’ll work harder in this area to raise funds to support more families.

In 2020, after much deliberation on whether to attempt to raise funds that year because of COVID, we pressed on.  It was not easy with businesses the way they were with COVID and COVID itself, to get players to attend.  Cancer is not stopping the determination of these kids and therefore a virus did not stop us in doing whatever we could.

We had to change our fundraising strategy in 2020 due to COVID.  We decided not to solicit businesses but surprisingly businesses sought us out.  One unique strategy to raise funds the first year was doing a “miracle minute” at a Henley High School.  We collected over $2000 doing the miracle minute.  Student government students and cheerleaders went into the stands and gathered as much money as they could in one minute at halftime.  With no football this year, another strategy blossomed, we asked The Human Bean, a local drive through coffee shop, if we could collect from customers just like the firemen did during the Jerry Lewis Telethons…..$2300 in 6 hours at 2 locations.  Thank you Human Bean.

During the tournament, businesses provided silent auction items that players bid well over retail.  So generous.  Local craftsmen built unique homemade items.  Wineries donated bottles and Jigsaw Health provided products.  For whatever reason, our tournament attendance went from around 80 our first year to 150 in 2020.  Thanks to all our supporters.  Not only did the tournament expand but we tripled the amount of money collected and were able to support two children with leukemia, Eleazar and Azella.  Azella is a 6-year old of a single mom.  Not only does she have leukemia but also diabetes.  She and her mom will be making many trips to Portland, over a 5-hour drive, and Medford over the next 2+ years for treatments.  Eleazar was just 6 months old and spent his time in Portland for treatments with his mom while his dad worked in Klamath Falls and took care of his older brother. Elezar passed away this past year.  Their pictures are on our web site and will melt your heart.

At the last minute, we became aware of another family whose son, Ariel, passed away.  We assisted with funeral expenses.  When presented the check, the mother “she grabbed it and literally held it to her heart after seeing how much it was for.  She was so excited, and very interested in our group, and what we were doing for the community.”  She said: “You have no idea how much this is going to help our family. We literally have nothing.  But…I am ok with that.  I know in my heart that we did everything we could for our son.  We tried every option available to keep him with us for as long as possible. He was a wonderful soul who knew all that we were doing and made sure to tell us we had done enough.  I would rather not have any money than the guilt of knowing I could have done more.  We have so many bills and I still owe for Ariel’s last expenses. We have a caring family. That is the reason we are surviving.”

In 2021, we set out again to raise awareness and funds.  We raised well over $50,000 and our tournament expanded to 164.  We reached out to pro pickleball players to have them sign a new or used paddle that we could use at our silent auction.  What great people:  Leigh and Anna Leigh Waters, Zane Navratil, Callie Smith, Morgan Evans, Jay Davilliers, Irina Tereschenko, Lauren Stratmen, Lindsey Newman, and Rob Nunnery.  We received items from Paddletek and Selkirk for the silent auction also.  Pickleball Planet sold apparel and Pickleball is Great ran the tournament, great partners.  We took a short break between brackets and all the cancer families that we have supported came and were recognized, such strong people.

There are many things I am proud of.  One, our husband and wife leaders who championed this cause.  Two, the committee members, that left their egos and personalities at the door and focused on the goal to raise awareness and funds for child cancer families.  Lastly, so amazed at the generosity of the Klamath Falls community.

Take up a cause to help your community or have part of the funds raised go to a worthy cause.  Keep the Faith.

Our web page accepts donations and is being disseminated as far as we can get it out there:  https://www.paddlingforchildhoodcancer.com/.  We are a 501c3.  Our president and treasurer are Greg and Carlie Cunningham and they would love to hear from you, 541-281-4142 or paddlingforchildhoodcancer@gmail.com.  Bill Kuerz

[1] https://childrensnational.org/visit/conditions-and-treatments/cancer/neuroblastoma

[2] https://www.thenccs.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/the-economic-impact-of-childhood-cancer.pdf

[3] https://www.hematologyadvisor.com/home/topics/general-hematology/effects-of-childhood-cancer-treatment-on-parental-finance-and-employment/

[4] https://www.cancer.gov/types/childhood-cancers

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