Sideline Cancer team set for national tourney

Sideline Cancer will be getting some national exposure this week.

The locally sponsored team is competing in The Basketball Tournament for the sixth year, and it will appear Thursday on ESPN (7 p.m. tipoff) when it plays Self Made, a team from Kansas, in Wichita.

The tournament is made up of a 64-team field broken into eight regionals with a $2 million prize to the winning team.

Sideline Cancer is the creation of the Griffith Family Foundation in memory of Greg Griffith, a former Hollidaysburg Area High School and local basketball player who succumbed to pancreatic cancer at age 50 in 2011.

“Sideline Cancer plays for those who are fighting pancreatic cancer currently, those who are no longer with us and their families,” Cathy Griffith, foundation president, said. “The TBT has allowed for the Griffith Family Foundation to reach a larger community to provide hope to all that one day there will be a cure for pancreatic cancer.”

Hollidaysburg product and former Penn State Altoona men’s basketball coach (2009-15) Billy Clapper serves as the team’s general manager. He’s now in his fifth season at IMG Academy in Florida as a post-graduate basketball coach.

Clapper and head coach Charlie Parker are responsible for assembling the Sideline Cancer roster.

“When I first decided to approach the Cathy Griffith and the Griffith Family Foundation about playing in their honor in 2014, I knew the goal was (to be part of something) bigger than something for myself,” Clapper said. “It quickly became a way to give back, and we began to raise awareness using basketball for all the things they do to find a cure for pancreatic cancer.”

The team pays travel expenses to its players, Clapper said.

He added that players on the winning team receive $100,000. Cathy Griffith’s share would be $500,000, which would be donated to the Griffith Family Foundation.

To date, the organization, through various programming and fund raisers, has donated $290,000 to the fight against pancreatic cancer.

“This experience has allowed me personally to create friendships and relationships that are going to last my lifetime,” Clapper said. “It truly is something bigger than basketball. It’s people rallying together, and it is amazing to see how those people want to be a part of something where there is hope.”

Many of the players in the tournament, including on Sideline Cancer’s roster, played college basketball at the Division I level. Self Made is comprised of several former Kansas players.

“One thing that has changed in TBT over the years is now every team is very good and has established pros,” Clapper said. “I really like our ability to play with the Self Made Kansas alumni. We have the size, wings and guards who are high-level players to compete and beat them. If we win the first-round game, we have an excellent chance to win the second-round game.”

Griffith thanked Clapper and former University of Buffalo and European League professional John Boyer, another Hollidaysburg native, for “tireless dedication.”

“There are so many people now invested in what we are doing with Sideline Cancer, from the community, to the professional basketball players, to the volunteers, to the supporters who help us get selected each year,” Clapper said. “I am just thankful and blessed to be a small part of something like this.”

This year’s team is playing in memory of Jermaine Marshall, a former Penn State player and Sideline Cancer team member and “one of our biggest stars,” Griffith said.

Marshall, 28, passed away in January from heart complications. He was playing professionally in France at the time.

Winners in the TBT eventually advance to Chicago for the championship game on Tuesday, Aug. 6. It will be televised on ESPN.

Sideline Cancer’s best showing in the TBT was 2015 when it won two games at the Philadelphia regional and advanced to the Sweet 16 in Chicago. It has won its first-round game three of the last five years.