Fundraiser is a slam dunk

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© Acorn Newspapers
Rio Mesa and Adolfo Camarillo high schools’ boys’ basketball teams make a presentation to Community Memorial Health System officials before the crosstown rivalry and league championship game Feb. 9 at Camarillo High. The hospital group was a major sponsor for the third annual Ball It Up for Cancer fundraiser. The event was hosted by the two high schools and raised over $7,000 to pay for breast and prostate cancer screenings for low-income patients. © Acorn Newspapers
Mary Schmitz stood outside the gym at Adolfo Camarillo High School last week as students and parents streamed inside to find a seat for what had become the most highly anticipated basketball game of the season.

But Schmitz wasn’t there to watch Rio Mesa and Camarillo high schools vie for the top spot in the Pacific View League (Rio Mesa won, 78-65).

Schmitz, Community Memorial Healthcare Foundation’s director of development, was one of a handful of hospital representatives on hand to accept recognition for Community Memorial Health System’s Centers for Family Health sponsorship of the third-annual Ball It Up for Cancer fundraising drive.

This year, the basketball teams raised more than $7,000.

The money, to be presented to the healthcare foundation in the coming weeks, will be used to pay for breast and prostate cancer screenings for low-income patients at any of Community Memorial’s nine Centers for Family Health throughout West Ventura County.

The rival high schools use their two league basketball games as venues for the fundraiser.

For Schmitz, the fundraiser held an additional, more personal meaning.

Three weeks earlier, the Ventura resident had completed her final radiation treatment for breast cancer.

“On so many dimensions, this is very, very meaningful,” Schmitz said. “People are significantly helped by donations like this.”

Started three years ago by Rio Mesa head coach Chris Ruffinelli and former longtime Camarillo head coach Mike Prewitt, the fundraiser began as a way for the coaches to teach their basketball players the value of community service.

“My original reasoning was to get the kids involved in something in the community and to understand that there are a lot more important things out there than a basketball game,” Ruffinelli said.

The coach said he was inspired to raise money for cancer prevention after learning that Josephine Soliz, the mother of one of his players and a doctor who volunteered for Rio Mesa’s basketball program, had been diagnosed with cancer for the second time in 2008.

When he first told his players about the fundraiser, Ruffinelli said, he asked how many had been affected by cancer.

“Every hand went up,” he said.

Allan Sadowsky, Camarillo’s head coach, said the fundraiser also held poignancy for him. The first-year coach said his father died of cancer in 2009 and his mother is a breast cancer survivor.

“My dad comes up every day of my life, especially during basketball season,” Sadowsky said. “I think about my dad at every home game. My dad was a big supporter in my life. He never missed a game when I played at Camarillo and very rarely missed a game that I coached for Camarillo High School.”

Ruffinelli, whose team won its first league championship in 21 years, said he was “ overwhelmed” by the support the tournament has received in three short years.

“It’s gotten bigger than I ever would have thought,” he said of the event that raises money through sponsorships, T-shirt sales and donated raffle items— including signed sports memorabilia from local pro athletes.

Ruffinelli said the event has grown and now has a committee of volunteers who plan the twoday fundraiser, which took place this year at Rio Mesa on Jan. 21 and at Camarillo on Feb. 9.

Steve Jones, medical director of the Centers for Family Health, said the event not only raises money for early cancer detection but also raises the level of awareness about the importance of prostate and breast cancer testing.

“This money will save lives,” Jones said.

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