The South Plainfield High School wrestling team’s annual showdown with Bergen Catholic is always one of the biggest of the year, but Tuesday’s season-opening dual meet between two nationally ranked programs will have added significance.
The Tigers will use the event to heighten awareness and raise money for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
South Plainfield High School wrestling coach Kevin McCann lost his father-in-law, Robert Tait, and grandfather, Clarence Robertson, to prostate cancer.
The Tigers are referring to their season opener as the South Plainfield Prostate Cancer Takedown.
“We thought that was a great match to do it at because of the crowd we anticipate,” said McCann, noting InterMat nationally ranks the Tigers and Crusaders among the Top 40 in the country.
“Obviously our goal is still to win the match and get our season started up the right way. It’s the perfect opportunity to make it an event so we could also make money to give back to the foundation.”
South Plainfield’s star-studded senior class, featuring four state place-winners including three-time unbeaten state champion Anthony Ashnault, came up with the idea to raise money for a cause over the summer while they were doing some fundraising for their own program.
“They just came up with the idea of trying to give back,” McCann said. “One of the things we talked about was prostate cancer – how big it is and how it affects men.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the United States. It is also one of the leading causes of cancer death among men of all races. According to the CDC’s most recent data, about 215,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, while nearly 29,000 men die each year.
Corey Stasenko, who placed sixth in the state at 145 pounds last winter, said he and his teammates had the utmost respect for breast cancer (the disease impacts mostly women) awareness and other initiatives, but that they ultimately decided on supporting a cause that impacts more men.
“What’s a more manly sport than wrestling?” Stasenko asked. “We thought it would be cool to do a fundraiser that would help people out. We decided on prostate cancer.”
Teammate Troy Heilmann, a two-time state runner-up and three-time state placewinner, said, “They’ve got a campaign for breast cancer awareness with the pink, why not try to get something going (for prostate cancer) with the blue.”
The Tigers are expected to use that color for a little surprise that will add some flair to a match that really needs no added incentive.
After dropping the first seven bouts of a dual meet that began favorably for Bergen Catholic at 160 pounds last year, the Tigers reeled off seven consecutive wins through the heart of their lineup to erase a 24-point deficit in a thrilling 30-24 comeback victory.
This year’s battle promises to be just as exciting and some believe the Crusaders have an excellent chance of knocking off South Plainfield, which has ended two of the last three seasons as the No. 1 team in the state, according to the New Jersey Wrestling Coaches Association’s final rankings.
McCann said Athletes For A Cure helped the Tigers organize the event. All proceeds from a 50-50 raffle will benefit the Prostate Cancer Foundation, along with part of the gate receipts and donations made in exchange for a specially designed ribbon or T-shirt. Olympic champion wrestler Jordan Burroughs of Camden has donated gear and other items, including an autographed Olympic photo, to fill three gift baskets, which will also be raffled to raise more money for the cause.
“We’ll have a lot of good stuff going on that night to raise money and awareness for a good cause,” said Heilmann, noting he and his teammates had no idea McCann lost loved ones to prostate cancer until being told by a reporter last week.
“That makes the event a little more serious,” Heilmann said, noting McCann’s connection to the disease, “kind of makes us want to go out there and get a win for him that night, too.”
Whether the Tigers prevail or not on the mat, they will prove to be winners in a battle against a much larger foe.