Gophers pair with Be The Match, set lofty goal for bone marrow drive

The team is aiming to add 1,750 names to the national bone marrow registry.

Dane Mizutani

It’s the offseason for players on the Gophers football team, but Wednesday afternoon they will gather for an all-out blitz around campus.

The Gophers are pairing with the Be The Match organization to add names to the national bone marrow registry — a system used to find bone marrow matches for people with leukemia and other life-threatening diseases.

The Gophers will host the drive in the home locker room at TCF Bank Stadium from 1-4 p.m. Their goal is to add 1,750 names to the registry.

Kristine Reed, who helps lead Be The Match in Minnesota, said she first reached out to Gophers head coach Jerry Kill in 2011 to assemble the drive.

Reed said Be The Match has paired with about 30 East Coast college football teams in the past — but never a Big Ten team.

“I thought we should give it a shot,” she said.

Reed said it took about eight months to get a hold of Kill, but he was very receptive to the idea once the two spoke. Both Reed and Kill are cancer survivors, which she said helped seal the deal.

Connor Cosgrove, a junior on the football team, is a survivor of leukemia and will undergo his final treatment in January 2014.

Cosgrove said two local children with life-threatening diseases visited the team about a month ago. That opened a lot of players’ eyes.

“I think it makes the situation so much more real,” he said. “If we don’t push harder to get people to register … those little kids could lose their lives.”

Julie Slipka, another Be The Match team leader, said the goal is for each player to recruit 10 people to the bone marrow drive. If each player did that, about 1,000 names would be added.

Cosgrove said the team got together and threw numbers around before deciding on 1,750. He said the squad had looked at statistics from East Coast schools with smaller populations who had signed up about 600 people for the registry through their own drives.

Slipka said 353 people are the most she has seen sign up in a single drive. She said the most Reed has amassed is about 360 people.

But Slipka said she is confident the Gophers can meet the goal.

Junior Brock Vereen said hitting the goal of 1,750 is important to the team, but he said the Gophers really want to raise awareness about Be The Match.

“If we sign up 1,750 people and we help one person, then it was worth it,” Vereen said.

Cosgrove said it is important for people to realize that a bone match can actually save someone’s life.

“I don’t think people realize how simple it is to donate,” he said.

Slipka said matches in bone marrow are based on the tissue type of a patient and not actual blood type, so people match up better with similar ethnicities.

“We really lack diversity on the registry now,” she said, “and we hope we can add to those numbers.”

Both Vereen and Cosgrove said the team is excited for the chance to impact lives.

 “It’s the offseason,” Vereen said, “but Wednesday will feel kind of like a game day for us.”