By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — An imposing young man stood near the intersection of McCormick and Alderman roads Tuesday afternoon, urging fellow UVa students to take a few minutes to help a good cause.
At 6-4, 265 pounds, Will Hill is difficult to ignore, and he was one reason why the UVa football team’s second annual bone-marrow registry drive was successful at Observatory Hill Dining Hall.
A year ago, at Newcomb Hall, 242 people registered as part of the “Get in the Game, Save a Life” program, which aims to increase the number of potential bone-marrow donors in the Be The Match Registry.
About half of those who registered in 2010 were members of the football team. On Tuesday, 231 potential donors registered at O-Hill, and most had no affiliation with the football program.
“The numbers that we got this time were students, employees, faculty members,” UVa’s second-year coach, Mike London, said Wednesday morning.
“I saw some people from the athletic department coming over. It’s just a great cause, and I’m very appreciative of everybody that came out.”
UVa’s chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha service fraternity, along with members of the student organization SAVE, helped the football players with the registration drive, which ran from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at O-Hill.
Potential donors filled out medical-history forms and had swabs of cheek cells taken. The cells will be examined to see if matches can found for patients who need bone-marrow transplants.
For London and his team, this is a cause that resonates.
In 2003, when he was a UVa assistant coach, London donated bone marrow to his daughter Ticynn, who had a rare blood disorder. Seven years later, his team’s first registration drive at UVa produced an exact match, linebacker Trevor Grywatch, who donated his marrow to a recipient last season.
“Any chance you get to help somebody out is a blessing, but to actually save somebody’s life, that’s awesome,” said Hill, a junior defensive tackle from Williamsburg.
“[Grywatch’s donation] was rewarding for us, and just showed that this team is really dedicated and committed to the community and the world.”
About 100 players volunteered their time Tuesday. Some manned tables inside O-Hill, where the actual registration took place. Others practiced their powers of persuasion outside the building.
“It was just really fun to interact with students that you know and meet students that you didn’t know, and also to help people,” said Dom Joseph, a senior defensive back from Philadelphia. “Because this is a real deep cause that we’re working for. You really have the potential to save somebody’s life with just a little cheek swab, and it’s rewarding to get people to sign up.”
London’s players had talked up the registry with fellow students in the days leading up to the drive. Not everyone had heard about the event, though, and so Hill and Joseph and others ventured well away from O-Hill on Tuesday.
“It was raining a little, so we had to stretch it further through campus,” Joseph said. “We basically grabbed people and told them what I told you, that you can save somebody’s life with a cheek swab.”
Since returning to UVa in December 2009 from the University of Richmond, where he spent two seasons as head coach, London has preached the importance of community service.
His players volunteer regularly at the Boys & Girls Club of Charlottesville, where they play pool, football and basketball and other games with the members, and at the UVa Children’s Hospital. A Facebook page has been created to highlight the team’s outreach in the Charlottesville area.
“You’re part of the community,” London said. “We live in the community. We ask the community to come support us. I think it’s important for these guys to understand that while you’re in college you also have a chance to develop a network [of contacts outside the football program].
“A lot of times you look at other kids or people or situations, and you’re so fortunate yourself that you ought to see and engage with people that are in need. It gives you a different perspective on whatever issues you might be having.
“I’ve always said, ‘It’s who we are, it’s what we do’ and the guys have bought into that.”
Joseph said: “It’s definitely good for me. It’s rewarding to interact with people and help people that need help, any way possible.”
“Any chance you get the opportunity to give back, you should,” he said. “Because without people giving back and reaching out, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”