2012-06-01 / Community

Cape grad gives because of cancer experience

By Jack Flagler Staff Writer

Members of the Cape Elizabeth baseball team listen to the national anthem before their game against Falmouth on May 23. Cape Elizabeth Baseball Boosters collected donations to benefit the Coaches vs. Cancer program. (Jack Flagler photo) Members of the Cape Elizabeth baseball team listen to the national anthem before their game against Falmouth on May 23. Cape Elizabeth Baseball Boosters collected donations to benefit the Coaches vs. Cancer program. (Jack Flagler photo) As a first-team all state and all conference catcher for four years, Colleen Martin, 21, is more accustomed to blocking pitches in the dirt than delivering them to the plate.

But before the Cape Elizabeth Capers baseball team took on the Falmouth Yachtsmen on May 23, Martin was not crouched in her customary position behind the plate. Instead, she was standing on the Cape Elizabeth baseball field ready to throw a pitch home.

Martin, who was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 3, threw the ceremonial first pitch before the game as part of a “Coaches vs. Cancer” benefit the two teams participated in to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth are two of more than 80 schools that participated in the program across Maine since the fall athletics season.

Martin has worked with the Portland Sea Dogs in the team’s efforts to fight cancer since 1995, when she was selected as the first “Slugger’s Kid” and began serving as a spokesman for the team’s “Strike Out Cancer in Kids” program.

After graduating from Cape Elizabeth High School in 2009, Martin went on to Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. She will begin her senior year studying athletic training in the fall, and she earned an honorable mention from the Commonwealth Coast Conference after batting .347 for the Gulls’ softball team last season.

“She’s just a role model for everyone, cancer patient or not. She does things the right way. She does things with class. As a 3-year-old she fought adversity and went after it,” said Cape Elizabeth baseball head coach Chris Heyward.

Martin was joined in the first pitch ceremony by Michelle Merrifield, the mother-in-law of Falmouth head coach Kevin Winship. Merrifield was diagnosed with breast cancer in November of last year in what she says came as a “complete shock” to her and her family. Merrifield went through chemotherapy and radiation treatments last summer, and has been cancer-free since August. This summer, she plans to retire from her job at the Westbrook Post Office after working there for 35 years.

Members of the Cape Elizabeth Baseball Boosters set up collection jars at each entrance to the field to collect donations from parents and fans. Heyward, who wore a pink “Coaches vs. Cancer” T-shirt while coaching at third base during the game, said the event raised more than $1,300 between the money in the collection jars and donations from sponsors.

Cape Elizabeth was unable to cap off the successful fund-raising effort with a victory on the field. The Capers held a lead throughout most of the game behind a strong outing from starting pitcher Will LeBlond. LeBlond had a shutout through five innings and Cape held a 2-0 lead, but Falmouth rallied with three runs in the sixth and ultimately won the game 4-2. The Yachtsmen improved their record on the season to 12-1.

The Coaches vs. Cancer program began as a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 1993. The annual Coaches vs. Cancer pre-season college basketball tournament is held every November, and this year will take place in Brooklyn, N.Y. NCAA coaches also replace dress shoes with sneakers in the annual “Suits and Sneakers” weekend in January to raise funds and awareness for the program. Since its inception, the program as a whole has raised nearly $50 million to fight cancer.

Erika Gould, youth initiatives coordinator at the American Cancer Society, said expanding Coaches vs. Cancer from college athletics to high schools was a huge step for the program.

“We realized it could work at the high school and community levels because that was a place the American Cancer Society really hadn’t touched yet, so there was an opportunity to raise awareness on a community level,” Gould said.

This was the inaugural season for the Coaches vs. Cancer program in Maine, with events starting in fall and going throughout the spring sports season. Gould said the program has raised about $25,000 in the state so far and, with events still going on, she expects the figure to be around $40,000 by the end of the season. But Gould said raising awareness about fighting cancer is just as important as the money raised.

“The program was a huge success this year, not only because of the money,” Gould said. “Cancer is an issue that affects everyone on the community level, and the schools have just been so supportive in giving their communities an opportunity to help.”

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