Tar Heels dribble to defeat cancer

At Carmichael Arena, 500 ball bouncers helped raise more than $65,000 to support pediatric cancer research.

Basketball players and community members walking and dribbling basketballs across campus as part of an event to raise money for pediatric cancer research.
The Dribble for Victory Over Cancer event, hosted on Sunday, Sept. 10, by the Carolina basketball teams, raised more than $65,000 for pediatric cancer research. (GoHeels.com)

In just under two months, Carmichael Arena will be packed with fans as the North Carolina women’s basketball team hosts Gardner-Webb in its season opener on Nov. 8.

But on Sunday, with balls bouncing on that same court, basketball games took a back seat and those in the building focused on a bigger rival: pediatric cancer. For the second year in a row, the Tar Heel basketball teams hosted the Dribble for Victory Over Cancer event in partnership with the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation and the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

More than 500 dribblers, including nearly 200 Carolina student-athletes, turned out to support the cause and help raise more than $65,000. The funds will support pediatric cancer research being conducted at the UNC Children’s Research Institute through the Dick Vitale Fund for Pediatric Cancer, a specialized grant fund at the V Foundation.

With the red brick walkways on campus still wet after morning showers, dribblers young and old walked — or ran, for the particularly energetic — a one-mile path to the Old Well and back past the Bell Tower before returning to Carmichael. There, many people took advantage of the opportunity to shoot on the historic court, clearly enjoying themselves despite a serious tone to the day.

The morning back at Carmichael was an emotional one for UNC women’s basketball alum Jessica Gaspar ‘99 and her family. Her nephew, Nick, a dedicated Tar Heel fan, passed away in May at age 16 and was honored with one of the banners that lined the driveway in front of the arena. Gaspar and other family members, including Nick’s father, Tim Gaspar, traveled to Chapel Hill from their home in Massachusetts for the event.

“All he cared about is putting smiles on everybody’s face,” Gaspar said of her nephew. “He never complained, always fought that battle and always moved forward. His memory will live on through us.”

And through those who continue the battle. This event is now in its 16th year nationally and has raised more than $2 million to fight pediatric cancer. After its beginning on the campuses of UCLA and St. John’s, the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation has partnered with the V Foundation to expand the Dribble to places like Chapel Hill, where the basketball season will get underway in early November. There will be many basketballs bouncing in the coming months — the Tar Heel men open on Nov. 6 at the Dean E. Smith Center and the women on Nov. 8 at Carmichael — but no more impactful dribble than Sunday’s.