By Avonlea Cummings
Hometown Weekly Sports Reporter
Almost every individual has a personal connection to someone who has faced the formidable challenge of battling cancer, be it a parent, sibling, friend, or cousin. This experience is widely acknowledged as one of life's most demanding trials. The journey is fraught with ups and downs, from enduring treatments to losing hair, and the added burden of financial strain on top of the initial diagnosis. It's a well-known fact that providing unwavering support from a caring community is crucial in uplifting those diagnosed with cancer and their families.
As the fall cross country season kicked off for the Needham High School runners, they gathered to hear the news of their head coach of 15 years, Chris Van Cott, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. Coach Van Cott candidly shared that there might be instances during the season when he wouldn't be able to attend practices or meets due to his treatment. Senior captain Sam Villa felt a deep sense of gratitude for everything Coach Van Cott had done for him and their team, and he believed it was time for them to reciprocate their support for their beloved coach.
After brainstorming with his co-captain, Villa conceived a fundraising initiative that later became a reality, known as "Spike Cancer," with "spike" referring to the athletic spikes the runners use on their shoes during meets. Little did he anticipate that the entire Needham community and the entire Bay State Conference would join forces to participate in the Dana-Farber Spike Cancer fundraiser, extending their support not only to Coach Chris Van Cott but also to others facing their own formidable challenges.
Villa dedicated countless hours, night after night, to create a logo, establish collaboration with the Dana-Farber Institute, and craft a proposal outlining the concept of Spike Cancer, which was presented to all the athletic directors of the Bay State Conference by the school's athletic director. The process was a whirlwind of tasks right from the beginning, but Villa's proudest achievement was witnessing the incredible unity within the community.
“I’m most proud of the way all the teams and the community all truly stepped up. It’s been awesome to see how the teams came together because we are all super close, it’s such a tight-knit community,” said Villa.
Chris Van Cott, Villa's coach, was deeply moved by the overwhelming outpouring of support and affection that the team and their families had shown throughout the season. The "Spike Cancer" fundraiser served as the ultimate gesture of goodwill. From October 23 to October 28, which coincided with the day of the Bay State Conference championship meet, all Bay State Conference teams not only exceeded Villa's and the team's fundraising target but also collectively raised over $11,000.
“I wanted to be transparent, one, because I’d lose my hair and then potentially miss portions of the season, but two because I take the approach of that this takes a village. I thought the more people who knew the more support Sam approached me back in September mentioning Dana-Farber and getting a fundraiser going. I thought it was a great idea, and he really ran with it. He was definitely the point person; he was doing all the leg work to get it off the ground. We made it into a brief one-week fundraiser, and the goal was to get the whole league involved. We compete on the cross-country course, but these guys and girls are friends, there is a really nice camaraderie in the league, and the concept was to come together and raise money. I’m very touched by his idea, and the other teams, coaches, spectators, and fans contributing. Obviously, I’m one person who has had this experience but cancer is an unfortunate ubiquitous problem, and whatever we can do as a running community is great,” said Van Cott.
This demonstrated the unity within the conference community and the strong bond shared by the Needham community. Even those who contributed just a dollar became a valuable part of something truly remarkable, a memory that Van Cott and others will forever cherish.
Villa aspires to transform Spike Cancer into an annual tradition. If you wish to contribute to this noble cause, please visit:https://charity.pledgeit.org/spike-cancer.