ALBANY — Members of the University at Albany football program spent three hours Wednesday afternoon taking on a much different challenge than preparing for the 2018 season.
For the second consecutive year, head coach Greg Gattuso’s Great Danes ran a “Be The Match” event on the school’s campus, helping to sign up potential bone marrow donors into a registry. The team’s coaches and athletes tracked down interested students, professors and administrators to sign up, while some athletes registered themselves.
“We have a little army at our disposal,” Gattuso said.
In all, approximately 150 names were added Wednesday to the registry from the team’s event. A year ago, the team’s event saw nearly 400 people register.
“I think that shows the types of students we have here on campus,” said Gattuso, whose team was off from practice Wednesday in the middle of its fourth week of spring practice.
Bone marrow transplants are used to treat blood cancers and other diseases, but finding a match for a person in need is not easy.
“Bone marrow transplants, it’s very hard to find a match and people are going to die if they don’t find someone to help them,” Gattuso said. “So what this does is get more people into the national registry.”
Michael Garbin, a senior community engagement representative for Be The Match who helped with Wednesday’s event at UAlbany, said college campuses are ideal locations to find potential donors.
“The younger the person, the better they make as a donor,” Garbin said. “Our marrow cells are very active, very vibrant, when we’re younger — especially between ages 18 and 25, so college students are the single best group of potential marrow donors.”
The sign-up process at an event like the one Wednesday at UAlbany took a few minutes for each individual. After filling out a consent form, a potential donor swabbed the inside of his or her cheek to produce a sample. In about a month, each of those samples will have been added to the national registry.
“It’s that simple,” Garbin said.
Gattuso said each of the Colonial Athletic Association teams sponsors a "Be The Match" event. Along with "Be The Match," Villanova head coach Andy Talley started an initiative to help and encourage fellow college football programs to sponsor registry drives. The website for the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation says more than 90 other college football programs have produced similar events to the one UAlbany ran Wednesday.
In total from all of its events in 2017, "Be The Match" added 493,000 new registry members.
“This is a really great cause,” Gattuso said. “You could save a life. How do you not take that opportunity?”