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On Sunday, the University of Toledo basketball team survived a stiff challenge but prevailed anyway, 81-78, over Kent State.
A man and his wife sitting courtside could appreciate the adversity the Rockets overcame to remain unbeaten at home.
Oregon couple Kristine and John Nikoncyk were the latest guests to occupy seats designated for the ever-expanding Tie One On initiative. Now in its fourth year, the brainchild of coach Tod Kowalczyk and vice president for external affairs Larry Burns has expanded to encompass a season instead of just one night.
For every men’s home game, a cancer survivor and a friend — or in Sunday’s case, two cancer survivors — are issued tickets to seats behind the scorer’s table. At some point during the game, they are recognized in a brief introduction on the overhead video board.
The Rockets (17-2, 10-0 at home) play two road games this week — Wednesday at Miami, Saturday at Ohio — before returning to Savage Arena on Feb. 5 for the Tie One On game against Bowling Green. Per usual, fans are encouraged to wear bow ties in support of cancer awareness.
“It’s so wonderful they are honoring people who survived,” said Kristine Nikoncyk, who was diagnosed in 2011 with breast cancer. “It’s important when you find out you have cancer that there are people who survived. It’s important for people to know there are success stories.”
John Nikoncyk was diagnosed in January, 2013, with pancreatic cancer.
Candidates for the tickets are identified by the American Cancer Society and the Eleanor Dana Cancer Society at the University of Toledo Medical Center, formerly the Medical College of Ohio. The tickets, which run about $1,500 for the season, are paid for by Tie One On. Their recipients reside in the Toledo area.
Burns got the idea from the university designating a permanently unoccupied seat in the Glass Bowl in honor of military service personnel who are missing in action or are prisoners of war. The seat was unveiled in October before Toledo’s football game with Navy.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Sam Taylor, who brought his wife, Cathy, for last Wednesday’s 77-68 win over Northern Illinois. “First one in a long time. It’s been several years. It was a good game.”
Taylor, who still takes medication after a 15-year battle with prostate cancer, says although he’s technically not a survivor, he believes he was issued tickets because “I’ve been at it long enough.”
Now retired, Taylor was an engineer at the university and helped develop the MCO campus.
Activities planned for the Bowling Green game include an attempt to break a world record. Currently, the most people to get a bow tie tied in the same room is 417. To trump that mark, Burns is using musical entertainment and adult beverages to entice participants to stick around the auxiliary gym while others have their ties tied.
The following week a function at the University of South Carolina will take aim at the record.
“We want to set the record so high they can’t beat it,” Burns said.