Spartans-Wolverines aren't Hatfields-McCoys at this event

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Natalie Jacobson, 17, who fell 30 feet and broke her spine, gets a surprise during transport through the halls at Beaumont Hospital -- MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo and Michigan's John Beilein. They posed for a selfie with Jacobson.

Bloomfield Hills — When 7-year-old Alex Eshelman asked Michigan coach John Beilein for an autograph, Beilein paused for a moment to admire Alex's Michigan State T-shirt.

"Are you allowed to have this?" Beilein joked.

Beilein then offered Alex a set of Michigan wristbands to balance his wardrobe. He signed the autograph next to Michigan State coach Tom Izzo's as a sign of unity.

It was a lighthearted exchange with Alex, who has been a leukemia patient for three years at Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital, but emblematic of coaches setting aside their rivalry for a common cause: Raising money during the Coaches Beat Cancer event, organized by Oakland University coach Greg Kampe.

Kampe, with help from the American Cancer Society, raised more than $150,000 by auctioning off a day with 10 prominent college basketball coaches, which included dinner Sunday and a round of golf Monday at Oakland Hills Country Club.

"Last night was awesome, but this was the best," Kampe said. "To see the smiles on the faces of these young kids and to see the smiles on the parents, for what the parents go through … to have a day like this, it's been just an awesome day."

Along with Beilein and Izzo, Kampe enlisted the help of seven other elite coaches: John Calipari (Kentucky), Roy Williams (North Carolina), Sean Miller (Arizona), Rick Barnes (Tennessee), Bob Huggins (West Virginia), Steve Alford (UCLA) and Josh Pastner (Memphis).

The minimum bid was $10,000 — Kampe had the highest at $30,000. Additional donations helped put the total at more than $162,000.

For Beilein and Izzo, it was an opportunity to get away from the everyday grind of coaching and spend some time giving back to the community.

"This is one of the great times for John (Beilein) and me because we're competing on the same team for once," Izzo said. "That's what's cool about these events for coaches — the rivalries go out the door and you realize you might be the Hatfields but the McCoys are cancer, not the other team."

The visit also brightened the day for several children in the pediatric unit, including Alford Harris, who was able to rearrange his day of treatment to meet some of his idols. Alford, who is a team manager for the varsity basketball team at University of Detroit Jesuit, wasn't sure what to expect when he woke up Monday, but got a surprise when he found out the coaches would be visiting the hospital.

"At first I was told it was just Michigan State and Michigan (coaches), and I woke up expecting to see Coach Izzo," said Alford, 15. "When I saw all these other coaches, it was a happy surprise."

Alford also was excited to see Calipari, and got a signed Tennessee hat from Barnes, along with several other autographs.

For Alford's mother, Andrea, it was a welcome break for the routine of medications and treatments.

"They came in our room about 8:30 and he was still sleeping," she said. "He asked them to give him treatments early so he can get over here and meet the coaches. A happy kid is positioned to get healthier a little bit quicker. Your mental state of mind is a big plus when you're positively situated."

Getting all the coaches together was a logistical challenge, but Kampe was able to get it done. When the coaches heard Kampe's plan, they made time in their schedules to accommodate the event.

"We're all pulled a thousand different ways but he's a friend," Calipari said. "Because it was him, I said yes. My wife and I have the things we do but for me, you do things for friends. The time away was hard, but this event for cancer and going to the hospital and to bring awareness is a good thing."

While Kampe is happy with the results from what he hopes will be an annual event, he's already thinking ahead about improvements for next year and making the event more impactful.

"I wanted it to be successful; I wanted to raise more money than we raised, but for the first year, it's pretty good," Kampe said. "I'm really happy with the way it turned out."

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

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