Banding Together

Big Ten rivals Penn State and Ohio State to show solidarity in the fight against kidney cancer, even while knocking heads at the Horseshoe Saturday night.

The Blue and White takes on the Scarlet and Gray in Ohio Stadium Saturday, as No. 3 Penn State and No. 10 Ohio State square off in a game with Big Ten title and perhaps national championship implications.

So why will athletes from both teams be wearing orange?

Well, Penn State and Ohio State both have chapters of the national organization Uplifting Athletes, which relies on college football players to raise awareness and money to help combat rare diseases.

The PSU and OSU chapters have each targeted kidney cancer as the focal point of their efforts. And the orange wristbands being worn by players on both teams this weekend are meant to be symbolic of the battle against kidney cancer.

“It's unique in that two schools that go head to head every year for the Big Ten title can unite and come together for a good cause,” said Nittany Lion receiver Brett Brackett, who doubles as president of the Penn State chapter of Uplifting Athletes. “It shows that even though we compete on the field, there are a bunch of good guys in both programs.”

Added Uplifting Athletes executive director Scott Shirley, “It speaks well to the social power of sports and the position student/athletes are in to influence positive change.”

Uplifting Athletes' roots stretch back to 2003, when Shirley was a walk-on football player at Penn State. At the time, his father, Don, was stricken with kidney cancer. So the younger Shirley and his friends devised the “Lift For Life Challenge,” a mid-summer strength and conditioning competition where fans could watch their favorite players in off-season workouts.

All money raised at the event went to the fight against kidney cancer.

Though Don Shirley passed away in 2005, Lift For Life kept growing, and has now raised more than $300,000. It eventually spawned the national organization Uplifting Athletes ( Long since graduated from Penn State, Shirley now heads up the non-profit, and he has helped it to launch chapters at other schools, including Ohio State last year.

The Buckeyes opted to raise money for the fight against kidney cancer because their quarterbacks coach, Joe Daniels, has been battling the disease since 2006. Daniels' son, Matt, is a former Buckeye who was the first president of the Ohio State chapter of Uplifting Athletes.

“I believe people like Scott [Shirley] are the reason my dad is still here today,” said Matt Daniels, who is now a coaching intern with the OSU football program. “Since 2003, there have been so many new breakthroughs in the treatment of kidney cancer and new medicines have been approved.”

Matt Daniels said he'll be rooting for his beloved team on Saturday but there will be a special place in his heart for everyone on the field who is wearing an orange wristband.

“These guys all put on the wristbands because they feel strongly about the cause and this disease,” he said. “If one word comes to mind, it's 'humbling.' On such a national stage, to think that guys care enough about the cause to wear the same wristband even though they are on opposite teams, it's just humbling.”

Players from both teams have been wearing the orange wristbands this season. According to Brackett, the wristbands have already had the desired effect of catching the attention of fans. Kidney cancer patients and survivors have taken notice, too.

“It's kind of funny how just wearing these wristbands in games has made an impact,” Brackett said. “We've been getting a lot of thank-yous.”

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