Marsha Sharp--Coaches Vs. Cancer
October 15, 1998
By Blayne Beal
Whether it is battling a nationally ranked opponent or helping to find a cure for cancer, Marsha Sharp and her Lady Raiders know how to "go to war." Sharp, in her 17th season at Texas Tech, is one of the nation's most recognizable coaches in women's basketball. She has led the Lady Raiders to six conference championships, four post season conference crowns, and a national championship in 1993. Sharp's teams are perennial national powers as the Lady Raiders have been ranked in the top 25 each year since 1991.
What most fans don't know is that the Lady Raiders rank in the top 25 in another poll. This poll usually doesn't make the newspapers and it is seldom seen on ESPN's Sportcenter, yet , it is probably the poll that Marsha Sharp is most proud of -- Coaches vs. Cancer.
Coaches vs. Cancer is a partnership between the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), and is endorsed by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). Fans who contribute to Coaches vs. Cancer help benefit research, patient services and educational programs of the American Cancer Society. A majority of funds that are raised by each coach remains in that coach's community to help fight cancer.
Sharp has been a part of Coaches vs. Cancer for the last four seasons. During this time, she has been able to raise $121,365 to help fight the war on cancer. "You don't have to look far to find personal examples of why it is important for us to be a part of Coaches vs. Cancer," Sharp said. "I think probably every player on our team has been touched by cancer in some way, and I know each of them has their own story and obviously that is true for me. It makes it much easier for us to as we say go to war for something."
On Oct 16, 1994, the fight on cancer became a personal battle for Sharp. Longtime Texas Tech Women's Administrator and close personal friend Jeannine McHaney lost a 10-year battle to cancer. McHaney helped to establish the Women's Athletics Department at Texas Tech in 1975, and served as volleyball and gymnastics coach from 1966 to 1975. Due to the lack of budget for women's sports, McHaney donated her time to coach both teams. In 1993, she was named Administrator of the Year by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.
"We sat here for about a 10-year period of time and watched Jeannine (McHaney) go through a battle with cancer," Sharp said. "When you have been that closely associated with people and you watch them go through it, you develop a strong feeling about trying to help out. Coaches vs. Cancer has been our way to fight back and our way to make a difference. It has been a very personal battle for me and I am honored to be a part of it."
Sharp's Lady Raiders participate in a variety of fund raisers to help generate financial support as well as activities designed to promote awareness and education. One of the most exciting, and a Lady Raider fan favorite, is the 3-Point Attack. Each time the Lady Raiders make a 3-point shot, a certain amount of money is given to the Coaches vs. Cancer program. Since the Lady Raiders are one of the nation's top 3-point shooting teams, it doesn't take long for Marsha Sharp to ring up a hefty sum of money. And Lady Raider fans love it. Posters with "3" can be seen waving among the thousands of fans who turn out each night to support their team. It is touching to see those who benefit the most from this program filling the coliseum and becoming the most avid supporters of the Lady Raider program. These Lady Raider fans know just how important those 3 point shots can be. Each morning, these fans wake up and face the reality of cancer.
Sharp can also be seen on many TV commercials where she emphasizes the importance of education and knowing the facts about the disease. But aside from all the programs that Sharp is apart of, none compare to her stance on education. After all, she is a teacher. Sharp believes in prevention-plain and simple. She and her staff educate each player on self-exams and the importance of open communication with the staff and health care providers.
It is hard to imagine an athlete in good physical condition to develop an illness like cancer. These young athletes seem to be invincible and should only have to worry about their next opponent and earning their degree. But the reality is - cancer does not discriminate.
"I think we do a very good job with the education process," Sharp said. "The impact of cancer has opened our eyes and made our preventative education stronger. If we didn't raise a single dollar and really educated this next generation about their health, then we have done something very special."
Marsha Sharp's success on the hardwood has allowed her to become one of the most well-respected coaches in women's basketball. She has helped to elevate the game of women's basketball to another level and has been a major contributor to its growing popularity. Her hard-nosed defense, stifling full-court press and high scoring offense pose an overwhelming threat to her opponents.
But, when you sit next to this coaching great and speak about cancer, you can't help but sit in amazement. Marsha Sharp truly understands the impact of cancer and how so many lives are affected by its deadly wrath. She would gladly give back all the honors and titles in order to help ease the burden carried by those with this dreadful disease. "I am a total believer that when you are blessed with some special talents or opportunities like we are at Texas Tech, we all have the responsibility to give back and help make a difference."
Maybe one day soon, Marsha Sharp won't have to look up and see the "3" posters and be reminded of a deadly disease. But until that day, Sharp will be standing courtside coaching her Lady Raiders and helping to make a difference in the war on cancer.
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