Athletes Take On Their Coaches in Fundraiser to Fight Cancer, Embrace Family

Student athletes took on coaches in a series of sports competitions Thursday night in Fulton in which the only loser was cancer.

The event raised money for the Golisano Children’s Hospital at University Hospital in Syracuse, but its real purpose was to recognize the damage cancer has done to young people and to wrap the community’s arms around one of its best-known families.

G. Ray Bodley High School student Tim Conners was recently diagnosed with leukemia. His mother, Betsy Conners, is a top district administrator and former Lanigan Elementary School principal. His father, Mike Conners, is the school’s legendary football and wrestling coach.

Mike Conners’ speech to the audience provided the event’s emotional heart.

Cancer, he said, is a scary word, a word that changed his life. But, he said, this crisis reminded him “how wonderful life is.

“It has put life into a new perspective for me. Life is a gift, one that is renewed daily.”

“Too often,” he continued, “we focus on (life’s) destination without focusing on the journey.”

He praised student Jake Tallents, who was a major force in organizing the fundraiser. He praised the community for reaching out to his family. And he praised the staff of Children’s Hospital.

“We may have hit a bump in the road,” Mike Conners said, “but I know we will be stronger in the end.”

The audience also heard from 18 year old student Brian Bush, who said he was on the wrong road at age 16 — using drugs — when he was diagnosed with cancer. Now, “I want to do great things and change the world for cancer patients,” he said.

The competitions featured five of the school’s better-known athletes.

Basketball player Max Ambuske lost the three-point shooting competition to coach Fred Kent by a point; Raider pitcher Josh Collins won the pitching speed competition against coach Jason Heindorf; coach Jon Fasulo won the weight lifting competition over student Mat Shoults; and quarterback Brett Williams won the football passing accuracy competition over coach Craig Halliday.

That left the competition tied at two wins each for the coaches and the students, and meant that the wrestling match between Jake Tallents and coach Jeff Waldron would decide the winner. The two fought a hard but even match over three short rounds. It was declared a draw at the end of the final period.

That draw, and the donations of the people who crowded into the gym (including an anonymous $1,000 donation), meant that only cancer went home a loser.