WHEELING - When hundreds of visitors pour into Wheeling Jesuit University's McDonough Center for the sixth-annual Cancer Research Classic boys high school basketball tournament on Jan. 4-5, there may be more than games to be won.
Dr. Gregory Merrick, who heads up Wheeling Hospital's Schiffler Cancer Center and Urologic Research Institute and organizes the ranked tourney, believes the men's health awareness handouts and screenings offered for free during the tournament just may save some lives.
"Let's face it - we men don't go to the doctor unless our wives are dragging us there. That's why men live seven or eight years less than women," Merrick said.
The CRC serves as a conduit for getting men to take a look at preventive health measures and screenings, as there are numerous stations set up at the tournament offering helpful and healthful information. And since its inception, Merrick said he has had feedback from people who have taken advantage of the information offered at past tournaments.
"We know that even if the men pass up the information, the women with them will pay attention to it and start the conversation. We have seen many coaches stopping at the stations and picking up material, but we know the women will get the men to the doctor," Merrick added.
During a news conference at the hospital Tuesday, Merrick detailed events surrounding the two-day tournament that include games between Linsly and Seton-La Salle from Pittsburgh and Wheeling Central taking on challengers from Mercersburg, Pa., on Jan. 4. Wheeling Park will meet St. Joseph's Prep from Philadelphia the afternoon of Jan. 5.
The caliber of talent heats up with nationally touted teams from Chicago; Philadelphia; Richmond, Calif.; Gladstone, N.J.; Montverde, Fla.; Washington, D.C.; Hyattsville, Md.; Dallas; and Ardmore, Pa., taking to the court both days. Merrick said five players in previous years' games are all headed to the NBA. He expects even more high-profile players, many of whom are already signed to Division 1 colleges, to be handling the round ball at this year's classic.
He said the tournament will put the Wheeling community and WJU in the global spotlight when ESPN comes to town once again to televise evening games on Jan. 5. The economic impact on the community also is expected to be significant.
Gates open at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 4 and 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 5. Admission is $7 for adults and $4 for students. Group rates are available by calling (304) 243-6412.
Merrick noted the upcoming tournament is attracting the attention of patrons from as far away as Canada, California, Utah, Kentucky, Tennessee and elsewhere. That attention, coupled with the influx of teams and their fans, means a shot in the arm for the local economy, he said.
Mayor Andy McKenzie echoed that sentiment and presented Merrick with a check for $2,500 toward tournament expenses.
"We are very dedicated to this. Wheeling Hospital and Dr. Merrick are the driving force. ... This is a special and rare event, and it is a tremendous honor for Wheeling to host this," McKenzie said.
Merrick and the mayor agree that the local news and ESPN coverage of the tournament showcase Wheeling in a way the hospital, the university or the city could not afford on their own.
WJU men's basketball coach Danny Sancomb said the university is thrilled to host the tournament, which also offers potential students a chance to view the campus and the community.
"The locals support this very well, and the crowds were unbelievable last year. We look forward to seeing some great games with a lot of fun and competition," Sancomb said. "We just may see the next Lebron James out there this year."