Soccer, Community and Competing for a Cause

A child is diagnosed with cancer every three minutes. Before they turn 20, about 1 in 285 children in the U.S. will have this type of disease. And even with these facts, all types of childhood cancer are funded by only 4 percent of federal funding for cancer research. There’s no easy way to talk about this subject, but the organization Compete for a Cause in Okemos is working as hard as the survivors they support to combat cancer.

This made in Michigan non-profit was founded by Kevin Gunns because of a personal situation that changed his perception of cancer. His wife, who is a middle school teacher, is a cancer survivor after a 12 year battle. It was an “easier” diagnosis to manage, described as “the type of cancer you want to get,” but still took a long fight to the finish. But it wasn’t until a student in her class diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor when they really understood it wasn’t fair.

“If there is ever a group of people that have done nothing to receive this kind of diagnosis, it’s the children of our world,” said Gunns, thinking of his own daughters and the toll it could take on his family. With this inspiration and help from the mothers of two local survivors (including the student stated above) Compete for a Cause came to life in the pursuit of gifting it to others.

For the past six years, the organization has raised approximately $100,000 to support two proactive research centers. Proceeds have gone to local health care non-profits as well as St. Baldricks Foundation and the Michigan State University Pediatric Oncology Clinic. These donations have been able to help satisfy wish lists by the medical teams like providing treatment support and new exam tables and resources for patients and parents.

One of these patient opportunities is a “symbolic gong” that children can ring after treatment or personal milestones during their journey with the clinic. Donations support more than just the research; they support the quality of life for the kids.

“It’s about awareness as much as it is fundraising, said Gunns. He channeled his coaching perspective into a cause greater than just sports, recognizing the ability to raise money for something other than new equipment.

More than a Game

“High school varsity teams are directed at winning and losing, but there is more than that.”

Compete for a Cause high school soccer teams lined up with sponsored children.

The Mason versus Okemos varsity soccer game has been a longstanding tradition in the rivaling high schools, and has continuously been a great addition to the organizations’ fundraising efforts.

The original two schools have now been joined by other communities around the Lansing area, making it a full day of teams competing and fundraising. At these games players can honor childhood cancer patients, in memory of someone affected by the disease by wearing a specially designed jersey during their game.

Stands have been packed with fans and families wearing gold t-shirts to show support for Compete for a Cause soccer event and gold ribbon hanging.Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September, and anyone is invited to hang gold ribbons on the goal nets to represent survivors and victims.

Gunns and fellow Compete for a Cause associate Dr. Kelly Treiber, PT, DPT say attending one of their events is important for reasons other than fundraising. Survivors and doctors from the MSU Pediatric Clinic will speak during half time at these games, talking about experiences and education on the subject. At the end of the day, the ultimate priority is to raise awareness.

Over the years, Compete for a Cause has seen growth in many ways besides the funds that have been raised through the soccer events. The organization is sponsored by multiple local businesses. They have also seen an increase in donated items for their annual silent auction, and a spirit week has been added at Mason High School with other sports such as volleyball, swim and cross country leading up to the featured soccer game.

Kids running at the annual Compete for a Cause 5K Fun Run.

This year marks the second Compete for a Cause 5k Fun Run, which is now one of the main September events. You can still sign up for the 5k, and donate to the organization at

If you have any questions about the organization, events or the 5k, please contact Dr. Kelly Treiber, PT, DPT or Kevin Gunns at [email protected]

Photo credit: courtesy images

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