The game of football tends to dominate conversation around Franklin Field, but the game of life is so much more important.
That fact will be on full display Wednesday as Penn football players run the team’s annual “Be The Match” drive to sign people up for the National Marrow Donor Program at Houston Hall.
From 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the team will sign up volunteers, who will give mouth swabs to be entered into the NMDP database.
“It’s giving back, it’s opening up opportunities to help save someone’s life,” junior wide receiver Cam Countryman said. “It’s not hard to do, and it’s something that we feel very passionate about and love to do.”
The Red and Blue have taken part in the Be the Match program for seven years after being introduced to it by Villanova football coach Andy Talley, who has made bone marrow donations the primary cause and gotten dozens of Football Championship Subdivision schools involved in the program. Through his “Get in the Game, Save a Life” program, Talley has gotten over 50 schools involved in the drive to expand the bone marrow donor base.
Defensive line coach Malik Hall — who is finishing up his first year at Penn — was a part of the drive for the last five years at Wagner and has taken on a leading role this year for the Quakers’ Be the Match program.
“It lets them know the game serves a bigger purpose at times,” Hall said. “Though, yeah, we play, we work 365 days a year to play the game, but it’s so much bigger than that. It’s a platform which we can use to be mentors on campus.”
In the past, the drive has borne significant results. Two football players ended up being matches through the 2011 drive, and a volunteer from 2015 was recently matched with a potential recipient.
“I actually was screened and called two summers ago,” head coach Ray Priore said. “But I was not the perfect match. ... The fact that you could actually save a life [makes it] an unbelievable opportunity. I know the guys who’ve done it have felt it was very rewarding.”
Be the Match is one of a number of programs the Quakers have been involved with in recent years. In the past, the football team has participated in “Uplifting Athletes” and the “Friends of Jaclyn” program. Running the Be the Match drive during spring practices also offers off-the-field benefits for Priore’s squad.
“We’re so blessed to be in the position that we’re in playing football here at Penn — most of us being healthy young men,” Countryman added. “And that opportunity isn’t given to everybody. It’s our job to give back, let our community know that some people need a little bit of help.”
For Hall, the impact of the drive is felt even more strongly as families come together to observe upcoming religious holidays.
“Not to get overly religious, but being at Passover and Easter this year, it gives perspective on what it really means to save a life. Especially with the spiritual context of these next few weeks. It really is very humbling to realize that you have been selected to make the decision to help someone.”
In the last eight years, over 52,000 donors have gone into the NMDP because of Talley’s program. Because of those efforts, 200 transplants have taken place.
All because of a cotton swab.
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