When the Live Oak and Los Gatos football teams clash in Morgan Hill on Friday, they’ll be playing for something far greater than trying to notch another ‘W’ in the win column.
They’ll be a part of the first-ever Coaches Against Cancer football game. Coaches Against Cancer is a 501c3 non-profit organization that Wildcats coach Mark Krail founded in 2009. Everything it raises helps support the American Cancer Society, National Brain Tumor Society and the Coaches Against Cancer Dreams Come True program, which honors the Make A Wish concept and connects families that have been affected by cancer and provides them with a “dream come true” experience.
For Krail and Live Oak coach Mike Gemo, cancer hits close to home. Gemo’s close friend and longtime fellow coach Richard Nelson died of cancer at the end of the 2019 season. Gemo said the Dreams Come True program sent Nelson and his wife to play a round of golf at Pebble Beach.
“They do a good job of promoting cancer awareness, and that’s why I picked up this game,” Gemo said.
Krail founded the Coaches Against Cancer organization after losing his father to lung cancer in 2006.
“Like anything, you go through a devastating loss and there’s a mourning process,” Krail said. “After that, you think, ‘Alright, what can I do to make a difference?’ It started out in my dad’s honor and still is, but for others it could be in honor of someone else.”
Since its inception, Coaches Against Cancer has held an annual golf fundraiser, usually at Cinnabar Hills in June.
Krail said this year’s event had approximately 200 participants.
“We raised a bunch of money, and every dollar goes back to research or the Dream Come True project,” he said.
Besides the gate money, all of the proceeds raised at Friday’s game will go to Coaches Against Cancer. Live Oak is raffling off a Dwight Clark and San Jose Sharks jerseys to go toward the organization. It just so happens both Live Oak and Los Gatos are 2-0, having looked impressive in the process.
As long-time coaches, Gemo and Krail have been friends for over a decade.
Gemo and his coaching staff play in the Coaches Against Cancer golf tournament almost every year and Gemo has helped out with the Charlie Wedemeyer All Star Game as some of the proceeds go to the non-profit.
“I like being a part of it because it’s a great organization,” Gemo said. “We’ll do whatever we can to help out.”
Given their friendship and similar views on wanting to do good, Gemo and Krail decided to schedule an official Coaches Against Cancer game.
“The credit really goes to Mike because he’s done most or all of the work leading up to this,” Krail said. “He’s been supportive of our organization over the years.”
When one of Gemo’s assistant coach’s sons was going through leukemia years ago, the family got connected to the organization. Another current assistant coach, Nick Hagiperos, had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Recent graduate and player Jalen Rios was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019.
Given how much of the Live Oak football family has been affected by cancer, it’s no wonder the Coaches Against Cancer organization has a fond place in Gemo’s heart.
“It’s special for us,” Gemo said.
Krail hopes there will be more Coaches Against Cancer games going forward. He’s done a lot of networking and received tremendous support from his fellow coaches, and has further developed his bond with his family as they all participate in Coaches Against Cancer fundraiser events.
Krail’s son, Kevin, and Kevin’s friend Ben Asleson came up with another event four years ago, Bike To Beat Cancer, to raise funds for Coaches Against Cancer. Even though Mark Krail would love to see more Coaches Against Cancer games throughout the region, he said something as simple as a 50/50 raffle could go a long way in helping raise funds for the grassroots, volunteer-driven organization.
“Every dollar helps,” Krail said. “This is definitely in its infancy, and where it goes from here I don’t know. We’re looking for ways to bring funds in and turn it around and help people. We’ve done a lot of good things for people, which is fulfilling.”