COLUMBUS, Ohio — For some charities, being tied to prominent basketball coaches can mean thousands of dollars, and perhaps even more importantly because it leads to even more donations, an exponential increase in awareness.
At the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio, for example, $100,000 equates to about 1,000 nights of care for families of seriously ill children, said Ryan Wilkins, the charity's director of community relations and marketing. The charity was able to provide more nights of care than expected over the past year because Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta directed $100,000 its way when he won the 2012 Infiniti Coaches' Charity Challenge.
Matta leveraged his role as a big-time college coach beyond the game again this week when he won the 2013 challenge for a second straight year, putting another $100,000 into the Ronald McDonald House.
Coaches like Matta and BYU's Dave Rose do more than chase bids to the NCAA tournament, which begins Tuesday with the First Four and turns into full March Madness on Thursday. They also put time and energy into charity work, which along with their name recognition and positions can be a powerful combination for good in their communities.
Using their platform
The public presence and increasing ubiquity of coaches in the media allows them to help more than just the players on their team. Wilkins said the public support of Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer is a major boost to the Ronald McDonald House charities, along with radio promotions by Matta.
"Using their platform to do good helps us build even more support," Wilkins said. "Those kinds of things make a world of difference to us."
Rose has talked about the Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation on his radio and television shows and has substantial input on decisions made by the charity, foundation founder Mac Boyter said.
Missouri basketball coach Frank Haith, a finalist in the Infiniti Coaches' Charity Challenge this week, underscored the importance of using his public platform to make a difference.
“To me it’s important because we are visible due to our careers," Haith said. "As coaches we can help raise awareness and help other folks learn about the program so they will consider getting involved as well.”
Fan voting not only shows support for a coach and the coach's program but also for the charity helping community members. Being a finalist in the competition only heightens awareness of a coach's charity.
“It’s great and it speaks volumes to our fans and their interest in supporting the Boys and Girls Clubs," Haith said. "Fans all over the country want to help out and when you add that element of school pride and competition, everyone wins.”
Rose and his wife Cheryl Rose not only attach their names to a charity but actively work to support it, Boyter said. Dave Rose's hands-on approach, including shopping for gifts for children at Christmastime with his coaching staff, showcases his true commitment and dedication to the charity, Boyter said.
"For many of these families, it's financially impossible to always have food on the table, a roof over their head or even have Christmas," Rose said. "Through the foundation, Cheryl and I want to help create a Christmas experience that they will never forget. This is an organization we really believe in and if having our team involved makes a difference then we're happy to do it."
The Infiniti Coaches' Charity Challenge, now in its third year, is a partnership of Infiniti, the NCAA, ESPN and the National Association of Basketball Coaches, that provides 48 coaches with the opportunity to raise money for their favorite charities by competing for fan votes. The winning coach receives $100,000 toward a chosen charity. All coaches who participate earn $5,000 for their respective charities. The total Infiniti contribution was $335,000 for the second straight year, according to an NCAA press release. The four finalists this year were Matta, Haith, Stanford's Johnny Dawkins and Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart.
The Boys and Girls Club, The V Foundation, Friends Association for Children, and Ronald McDonald House Charities were among the charities supported by coaches during this year's challenge.
“College basketball coaches across America contribute in so many ways throughout the year for numerous national and local charitable organizations as well as community projects and initiatives,” said Jim Haney, executive director of the NABC, in a press release. “The Infiniti Coaches’ Charity Challenge enables college basketball fans to team with these outstanding coaches in providing significant financial support and awareness for so many worthy programs.”
To their knees
Boyter has seen firsthand the powerful impact of sports. His charity is small and made up entirely of volunteers, but thanks to the ongoing support of Rose and the BYU basketball team, they are able to help struggling children with cancer and their families cope emotionally. Rose sponsored this charity for the Infiniti Coaches' Charity Challenge this year.
"Dave, his coaches and the team have been there every year interacting with the children," Boyter said. "When you see a big 6-foot-7 basketball player down on his knees playing with the kids and helping them dunk a basketball, that's really amazing."
The work of Dave and Cheryl Rose has made "all the difference in the world" in allowing his foundation to help children and their families, especially during the Christmas season, Boyter said.
"This (the Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation) is a cause Cheryl and I have always felt strongly about," Rose said. "It has been such a positive experience for the coaches, players and families and is a tremendous opportunity for community members to be involved in brightening the holiday season for families that have children with cancer."
Even though Rose did not win, the Children with Cancer Christmas Foundation will still receive a donation, as will all charities that were selected for the Infiniti Coaches' Charity Challenge. For Boyter, the money is only part of the equation.
The publicity around the challenge allowed others to find out about the charity and its functions, he said. Because of the charity's relatively small size, this type of national attention can be as valuable as a check, if not more so.
"It helped us increase our credibility because when someone like Dave speaks, people listen," Boyter said. "Doctors and nurses now refer people to us."
Wilkins cited an increase in awareness as a major benefit of Matta's support for the Ronald McDonald House, both locally and nationally.
“We got a ton of exposure because of all of the promotions and excitement around the contest and the fact that Coach Matta did so well,” Wilkins said. “It really was a rallying cry for our community around the Ronald McDonald house.”
Missouri's Haith sponsored the Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbia for the second straight year, and the challenge has garnered interest in the organization through social media platforms, said Amy Hay, resource development director for The Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbia, Mo.
People have become familiar with the organization by reaching out on Facebook or Twitter, she said. Coaches and sports figures also enjoy a celebrity-like status, so when they lend their name to a cause, it garners attention, especially locally.
"A coach is someone that's recognizable in the community and because sports are a big part of what we do here, the support of a basketball coach ties in really nicely," Hay said.
The money Haith earned for the charity last year, and that he will again bring in this year, goes a long way to helping the children of Columbia, she said.
"Five thousand dollars is a large donation for us that we are ecstatic to have," she said. "The majority of the money goes to programming so we can provide structured activities for our children where they can learn and grow."
The Ronald McDonald House is working a new project to expand housing units for families of seriously ill children, a project that likely would not be possible without the continued support of Matta and his wife, Wilkins said.
"It's great to have the voice of the coach that everyone loves, who coaches the team that everyone loves," Wilkins said. "That kind of support is invaluable."