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Local football teams trying to tackle cancer

This football season, East Ridge, Park and New Life Academy have partnered with the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund to try and make a difference in the fight against cancer. (Image courtesy of Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund)

This fall, football teams from across the state are doing what they can to tackle cancer.

Cancer is a disease that has affected many people. This football season, East Ridge, Park and New Life Academy are each trying to make a difference.

In a partnership with the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund, the three area schools have chosen to sponsor one "Tackle Cancer" night this season, where fans attending the game can make donations toward funding additional cancer research.

"There are many, many families in our football program and in our Park community who have been affected in some way, shape or form by cancer," said Park Activities Director Phil Kuemmel. "It's a program that's been well organized by Randy Shaver and his foundation and I think it's a great way to honor and recognize those families near and dear to our hearts in Cottage Grove and across the state who have been effected by cancer. We want to do what we can to help out."

For the past 29 years, Shaver has covered Minnesota high school football for KARE- TV. He and his wife Roseann Giovanatto-Shaver are both cancer survivors. The Shavers' foundation has raised more than $4 million in the battle against cancer to date.

"We're so excited about this campaign," Giovanatto-Shaver said. "We can do so many good things with the money. We're just shocked by some of the efforts some of these teams have made. It's really uplifting to be honest."

Giovanatto-Shaver said the idea of the Tackle Cancer initiative came to fruition after Minnetonka High School football coach Dave Nelson was diagnosed with cancer. Shortly thereafter, Nelson and the Shavers brainstormed and the Tackle Cancer campaign was borne.

"A lot of people want to get involved, but don't know how," Giovanatto-Shaver said. "We just let every team do their thing. Many teams have been affected by cancer, whether it's a coach or a parent of a player or somebody's brother, sister, aunt or uncle -- very few of us have not been touched by cancer. This gives the community an opportunity to support Minnesota's cancer community -- not just as a national level."

With assistance from the Minnesota Football Coaches Association (MFCA), over 130 Minnesota High School football teams have chosen to take part in the inaugural fundraiser. Giovanatto-Shaver said the initial goal was to raise roughly $20,000 for the fight against cancer, but she said the grand total will likely far exceed that. The foundation has already received a total of $7,000 from just 10 of the teams taking part.

"Who knows how much money this will raise?" Giovanatto-Shaver said. "We couldn't be more delighted."

Giovanatto-Shaver said her organization has very little overhead, that all of the money goes to researchers in the state of Minnesota and that the money will support all forms of cancer research.

"There is over 7,000 different types of cancer and there is no hierarchy in forms of cancer; they are all important," she said. "We're looking for innovative approaches in a variety of cancers. We want to affect all Minnesotans in some way."

The giant upcoming rivalry game at East Ridge High School between the rival Woodbury Royals and East Ridge Raptors will give everyone from Woodbury and Cottage Grove an opportunity to donate to the Tackle Cancer initiative. Also, Park football fans can donate money at the Wolfpack's home game against Hastings on Friday, Oct. 5, at Park High School. New Life Academy hosted its Tackle Cancer game last week against Providence Academy.

Raptors assistant coach Dan Myers is helping coordinate the effort at East Ridge, along with East Ridge Activities Director Jon Hinzman and head coach Mike Pendino.

"Randy does a great job with all the prep sports. They got the ball rolling," Myers said. "They wanted to do it in September - and it turns out Woodbury is our lone September home game, it's our big rival, it's Homecoming and there are going to be a lot of people there. I think that it's going to work out well for us."

Myers said the annual battle between East Ridge and Woodbury for the Griffin Trophy is important to his staff, the school and Raptors fans, but that this year, especially, it will also be a positive event for the entire community.

"We want to raise as much money to fight cancer and let the Randy Shaver Cancer Foundation folks know that East Ridge and Woodbury may be rivals, but at the same time we can work together to make Woodbury as a whole a better place," Myers said. "I think it's going to be good to show that we can come together for a common cause."

Myers said there will be collection boxes at the East Ridge campus throughout the week and a "big, visible presence" at the Raptors vs. Royals football game.

"We'll take cash, checks, nickels, pennies, dimes - anything we can get," Myers said. "We know it's a tough economy right now, but whatever people can give is great. Little by little we can do big things hopefully."

For more information on the Tackle Cancer campaign visit