A group of young Sylvania track and field athletes this summer experienced not only the thrill of victory but also the uplifting satisfaction of charity work.
The team from St. Joseph of Sylvania won the Catholic Youth Organization league title by a wide margin and through a pledge point system raised nearly $6,000 for the American Cancer Society.
The fund-raising effort was the brainchild of John Cameron, commissioner of the track program. People pledged so many dollars per point that the team won.
"The kids really came through," Mr. Cameron said. "Clearly, it was the best results I've ever seen at that meet. The kids raised nearly $6,000, and we wrote a check to the American Cancer Society. We won three championships, so it turned out to be a fabulous sports story too."
At the championship meet, there were 25 teams and 700 participants representing parishes from all over northwest Ohio. The St. Joseph Jaguars won three of the four division titles and were runner-up in another.
The team accumulated 412 points, which were part of a "pledging for points campaign" for the Relay for Life event held in June at Timberstone Junior High School in Sylvania.
Two cancer survivors are part of the St. Joseph track program, making the young athletes' efforts even more poignant. One of the team's coaches, Joyce Aughenbaugh, and a team member, Christopher Dickendasher, have been directly affected by the disease.
"I was very touched," said Mrs. Aughenbaugh, a breast cancer survivor.
"I don't know if they did it for me. It wasn't about me. I may have had some influence because they knew me personally," she said. "But they were doing it because it was the right thing to do. They grabbed on to it and ran with it. It was wonderful to be a part of it."
Mr. Cameron, who took over the track and field program at St. Joe's three years ago, said early during the season he was watching a special episode of the television program American Idol with the theme of "giving back."
"I remember thinking there has to be a way I can do that with the kids in our track program," he said. "I wasn't sure what I would do."
He said a few nights later he was with two of the team's coaches, Steve Baugh and Mrs. Aughenbaugh's husband, Geoff, when a woman approached the table.
"She asked us for a donation to the Relay for Life," Mr. Cameron said. "I told her, 'Not only do I want to donate, but I want to do something more.' It was just a strange coincidence."
The woman turned out to be Judy Thiede, who helped organize the Relay for Life, a fund-raising event sponsored by the American Cancer Society.
Mrs. Aughenbaugh, who coaches the short distance runners, said she arrived later and discussed the idea with Mr. Cameron. Coincidentally, Ms. Thiede is a client of Mrs. Aughenbaugh, who is an insurance agent.
"I thought it was an amazing idea," Mrs. Aughenbaugh said. "John was familiar with my journey, and he wanted to help."
Mr. Cameron admitted that at first he was a bit skeptical that the young athletes would respond.
"They roared, they were so excited about it," he said. "The kids were asking everyone [to pledge]. They got their parents, cousins, and grandparents involved."
The first year Mr. Cameron took over the program, the team scored 269 points at the CYO meet. Last year it tallied 320. But nothing would approach this season's results at Southview High School on May 18.
Mr. Cameron said he can't say for sure whether the fund-raising drive contributed to the team's extraordinary performance.
"Before the meet started, I just told them, 'We are here to do our best, and that is all we can ask of you. Don't forget about this campaign. Just go out and do your best,'•" Mr. Cameron said.
He was astonished when the team piled up 421 points.
Mrs. Aughenbaugh's daughter Alexandra and son Grant competed for the St. Joseph track team.
"We pretty much swept it," Mrs. Aughenbaugh said.
The Relay for Life event was held right where the team practices - Timberstone Junior High in Sylvania.
At the relay on June 13, cancer survivors wore purple shirts.
"We walked the track, and they announced our success," Mrs. Aughenbaugh said. "The whole thing was very moving and motivating."
The event was an 18-hour overnight walk.
"We had many of our kids there," Mr. Cameron said. "It was a big conclusion to everything. We took a photo with a banner that said the kids were champions on and off the field."
Mrs. Aughenbaugh said she always ran in the annual Race for the Cure cancer awareness events.
"All those years, and I never knew I would be directly affected by it," she said.
Mrs. Aughenbaugh said she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer just two days before Christmas in 2006 and went through four surgeries, including a bilateral mastectomy, and many rounds of chemotherapy.
"My last surgery was in March. I sure hope it's the last," she said. "One never knows. But I feel good."
Mrs. Aughenbaugh is feeling so good she is competing in two triathlons this summer.
"It's a victory march for me," she added.
Mrs. Aughenbaugh said she will go in for checkups every six months for the next five years.
"I just hope I can inspire the kids a little bit with what I'm able to do now," she said.
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