So, when the Philadelphia City Six basketball coaches held their first Coaches vs. Cancer, morning-after-Selection-Sunday breakfast some two decades ago in a rather intimate gathering at the Applebee’s on City Avenue, did Saint Joseph’s Phil Martelli think it would grow into the difference-making success it has become?
“Never,” he said, “Now we’re on the floor at the Palestra [for the breakfast]. It speaks to Philadelphia. I marvel at the loyalty and philanthropic spirit, of the people who support us. But if somebody had said, ‘You’re going to be able to raise a million dollars in seven of the last eight years,’ no, that’s not how this is going to work. But Philadelphians help each other. And that’s been our mission.”
On Sunday night at Ardmore’s Merion Golf Club, Martelli and his good friend Fran Dunphy of Temple, who together have spearheaded those fundraising efforts, will be recognized by the American Cancer Society with the 2017 Circle of Honor Award, a national honor within the Coaches vs. Cancer program for extraordinary commitment. But that’s not why they do it.
“It’s unnecessary, to be honest, to make this any kind of a big deal,” said Dunphy, echoing Martelli’s sentiments. “We just hope we can do some good, for those who aren’t quite as lucky as us. It’s a privilege.”
The other coaches were asked to be there as well, but they thought the focus should be on their two most visible faces in this continuous fight to beat a dreaded disease. They hold a series of events throughout the year — from a golf tournament to a gala ball — to make those contributions possible.
“There’s never been a better time to invest in that vision,” said Sharon Byers, chief development and marketing office of the ACS, in a statement. “We’re making important contributions that have led to significant progress.”
But there’s obviously still so much to do. And that’s what keeps both men going.
“So many people have gotten behind our cause,” Dunphy said. “And there’s people who’ve done so many wonderful things but remain relatively anonymous. They’re the heroes. I get really emotional about it. You have so many stories, and not enough of them have the right endings yet. At some point, it would be great if nobody has to suffer like they do these days..”
Until that happens, they’ll humbly remain at the forefront.
“I’m going to accept mine on behalf of all the fighters that I’ve met, and the families of the fighters,” Martelli said. “It’s heartwarming to know you can touch someone’s life. But I know I can do more. We can do more. … To share it with Dunph, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”