Wheeling, West Virginia played host to possibly the biggest high school tournament in the nation this weekend: the Cancer Research Classic. With ESPN making their second appearance at the event, following the likes of Simeon Academy and Jabari Parker and Huntington Prep’s Andrew Wiggins, the tournament became the place to be for the weekend. With the stars out in a rural West Virginia city, some to play basketball and some to watch, the underlying theme of the tournament appeared to become lost in the shuffle.
Slated as the “Nation’s Premier Catholic High School Basketball Tournament,” the CRC is known for the action on the court, while everything behind the scenes is what truly makes a difference. Created six years ago by Dr. Gregory Merrick, the tournament has two primary missions to fulfill. The first, as stated by Doc Merrick is to promote men’s health.
“Women are the focus of most health emporiums, and are the target for health awareness,” said Doc Merrick. “Women live an average of 8-10 years longer than men, because they’re more aware and we want to promote men’s health awareness. Most men will have the ‘tough guy’ attitude and just ignore any pain so they don’t look bad. We’re hoping to change that and make them more aware of the need to see a doctor.”
The message is being sent through a basketball tournament because men are typically fans of the sport. In order to spread their message, residents and nurses from Wheeling Hospital worked at the tournament providing free health screenings. The screenings ranged from general health — such as height, weight, and BMI — to larger health issues – including swabbing your mouth to test for cancer. Informational packets were available throughout the building regarding all types of cancers, hoping to give people the ability to find symptoms and be helped.
Outside of the gymnasium where all the action took place, the onus was on cancer research, raising funds with ticket and concessions sales to aid the hospital in future research. Though only one table was set up with informational packets available, there were many residents available to assist anybody with questions about men’s health issues. Alongside the display for cancer research was a large-scale display promoting the second mission of the CRC: to further promote the value of a catholic education.
“Catholic education instills a sense of social responsibility into a young person,” commented Doc Merrick. “We hope to further promote the value of a good catholic education by displaying the great people involved with a catholic institution. Wheeling Jesuit, where the tournament is held, was named the best university in West Virginia as a catholic school.”
Though this was not as prevalent throughout the tournament, it was a theme within the tournament with the majority of the competition being filled by catholic institutions. These schools were less known for their intent with the catholic religion, and were more focused on the performances of their basketball teams. With the eye of the nation on them, the top players in the country did not disappoint, with multiple records being broken by players ranked within the Top-100 of their graduation class by ESPN.
The stars of the show gave a spectacle to draw in people from all over, fans joining the show from Toronto, Canada or Dallas, Texas, or Chicago. It appeared as though the center of the universe was a small high school basketball tournament in a seemingly unknown city in West Virginia. Yet when the players weren’t performing, or the game was at halftime, it was finally time for the real stars to shine. Residents from the hospital spent the entirety of the tournament handing out packets and answering questions from fans of basketball.
“Sports are a marvelous vehicle to get the message out,” said Doc Merrick. “The interest in sports and in basketball is increasing, and with that we are reaching out to more people to get our message out and to promote men’s health awareness.”