Memorial Coliseum played host to the eighth annual DanceBlue marathon, where a record $1,113,189.42 was raised for the fight against pediatric cancer. After the final total was revealed on Saturday evening, participants learned of a $500,000 endowment fund started by the late Joy Wills, who beat cancer three times and supported DanceBlue during her life.
"This year, with a record number of 800 dancers, DanceBlue was able to raise over $1.1 million for the Golden Matrix Fund to support cancer research at the Markey Cancer Center and child-life initiatives in the DanceBlue Kentucky Children's Hospital Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic," said Ethan Ritter, DanceBlue's 2013 Overall Chair. "It was a wonderful 24 hours that united our entire campus and state."
Include UK Athletics in that too.
Wildcat student-athletes, coaches, teams and the department at large lent their support in myriad ways. Multiple coaches - including John Calipari and Matthew Mitchell - took to the stage to encourage dancers, one of whom was former UK wide receiver La'Rod King. Any visitors to the marathon left in awe of the dedication and passion of the participants.
"I was blown away by the number of students in that gym Friday night dancing and raising money to fight pediatric cancer," Coach Cal said. "As I told them Friday, they may never do anything more meaningful than what they did with DanceBlue. It is hard to do something by yourself, but to come together like they did and raise more than a million dollars warms my heart. It will make a tremendous difference in the fight against cancer."
The women's soccer team took an even more active role.
"It means a lot for us as a team to be able to give back to the Lexington community and donate to something that we strongly believe in," head coach Jon Lipsitz said. "Allison Berger was someone who touched all of our hearts and so we will continue to do everything we can to fight this awful disease in her honor. Yes, we want to win games and win championships, but just as important is winning off the field, and this cause means a lot to our players, coaches, staff and university."
The donation by the women's soccer team instigated a little good-natured competitiveness from a fellow UK program. Volleyball head coach Craig Skinner, in addressing dancers, announced his team would hold a match of its own next season to benefit DanceBlue.
"I personally challenge Coach Lipsitz the volleyball team will raise more money than the soccer team next year," said Skinner before going on to propose the losing coach shave his head. Lipsitz may want to amend that wager considering he has substantially more hair to begin with.
Friendly jabs aside, DanceBlue - which has raised more than $5 million since its inception- has grown into something few could have imagined when it began in 2006. That good work will surely continue with or without the involvement of UK Athletics, but that involvement is appreciated nonetheless.
"The support from our athletic community was terrific," Ritter said. "Visits from our coaches got our dancers excited, the only thing they cheered more for were our clinic families. Our continued use of Memorial Coliseum for the event and the special events hosted by teams like women's soccer shows that UK Athletics truly takes interest in supporting events that improve our community."