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An honor to play ‘for something bigger’

I will never forget the phone call I made to John Boyer the first week of March in 2014.

That phone call was to offer him the first spot on the Sideline Cancer basketball team. When he picked up the phone, I told him that I wanted him to play in honor of the Griffith Family Foundation of Hollidaysburg in a summer basketball tournament.

Known simply as “TBT,” the tournament would pay the winning team $500,000. My general manager pitch was simple: He was a professional basketball player from central Pennsylvania, and we both knew the Griffith Family personally.

I shared with him my vision to win games in the tournament and play for something bigger, and I also made sure he knew that without him this was not going to happen. He instantly said, “I am in.”

The TBT quickly grew, and five years later, it features 64 teams each summer in a single-elimination tournament, televised on ESPN’s family of networks and offering its champion a $2 million prize.

The tournament features college alumni teams and other teams of professional players who are not currently signed to an NBA contract. Its platform pulls in basketball fans of all ages who want their summer hoops fix.

This year that growing platform gave our Sideline Cancer team something much different. We were offered the chance to play in the Wichita, Kansas regional that would have its games televised nationally.

We accepted that opportunity knowing that this would give us a chance to raise awareness to an audience all over the country on prime-time TV.

Our team took the floor on July 25 playing in front of a TBT record crowd of over 7,000 people and earning a victory over Self Made, a Kansas alumni team. We went on to win in the second round as well, defeating a Wichita State alumni team, before falling to the Marquette alumni in the “Sweet 16.”

This was the second time we advanced to the Sweet 16, though this time we played three games on national television in four days. That platform shared the vision of the Griffith Family Foundation, raising awareness for a cure to be found for pancreatic cancer was heard over and over.

The efforts of our community and countless volunteers from the foundation continue to be shared.

Each game we won received more exposure and support.

Our team of professional players is made up of former college basketball players from schools like Central Michigan, George Washington, Pitt and Xavier. They now play in countries such as France, Hungary and Ukraine.

We are now looking ahead to next year. I plan to be back as our general manager, our coaching staff will remain intact, and we hope to add a few more players to the returning core to advance to the Elite 8 or further.

It would be nice to win those games, though, most importantly, we will always be playing for something bigger.

Clapper is in his fifth season at IMG Academy in Florida as a post-graduate basketball coach. He is a native of Saxton, a graduate of Hollidaysburg Area High School and former head men’s basketball coach at Penn State Altoona.

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