SAAC in ACCtion: Selfless Commitment

Feb. 11, 2010


In the early 1990's, Curt Onalfo, a then Cavalier soccer player, was diagnosed with cancer. Happily he recovered and stayed in soccer where he is now the head coach for the MLS team DC United. But at the time the prognosis was uncertain, as it always is, and the news of Onalfo's condition inspired teammate Tom Henske to take action to help his friend and other cancer patients. From Henske's selfless commitment to those afflicted with the disease emerged an event to raise money for pediatric cancer treatment and research.

Following a soccer theme, Shoot Out for Cancer was born in 1993. Henske bequeathed the concept to UVA's the Student Athlete Mentors (SAMs) which has continued to organize and run the annual event with Henske's original intent in mind--to help children and youth battling cancer. Together with the SAAC the SAMs are a leadership group composed of student-athletes from all 25 varsity sports. At UVA the SAAC focuses of organizational aspects of student-athlete life, while the SAMs focus on good decision-making and community service.

Tom played as Virginia's goalkeeper for four years and led the Cavaliers to three NCAA Division I national championships. He was a two-time All-American soccer player, and played with both the U-20 and U-18 national youth teams.

During his time at the UVa, he donated his championship ring to charity and organized events asking students, community members and businesses to match his contribution. As a senior, Tom received Virginia's Distinguished Student Award.

After his soccer career, Tom began a career in financial planning with Cowan. While there, he started his own company, Henske Advisors, and is now a partner in Fifth Avenue Financial which has folded Cowan and its successor Lenox Advisors into its organization.

With his clients and their concerns in mind Tom developed a revolutionary program, Money-Smart KidsTM. Money-Smart Kids provides tools and information to foster independence, good judgment and responsible habits in children. The program helps to instill in children a sense that having money is not a right, but a privilege. And, like all privileges, it needs to be honored and protected. The program is age based.

Through Shoot Out, the efforts of the SAM's culminate annually in a large, carnival-like event that enables kids to interact with and even "compete" against student-athletes, providing a day of fun for a great cause. Football tosses, volleyball, and small-side soccer with student-athletes have been popular games in the past. Other games, such as a moon bounce, and complimentary food add to the day's entertainment.

More recent SAM alumnus Melissa Caldwell, a former standout on UVA's volleyball team, commented on her experience with Shoot Out for Cancer: "There's something so unique about this event, and I love that there's the chance to use sports to bond with the Charlottesville community in a more interactive way. It's so much fun to get the chance to play sports with kids from the area."

In 2008, Caldwell served on the SAM Council, the group's leadership body, and was one of Shoot Out's main organizers. In addition to having fun playing with Charlottesville's kids, Melissa believes in the cause Shoot Out supports. She commented, "In supporting the Patients and Friends research fund, we want not only to give monetary support, but hope also to raise awareness within the area. By giving now, we are investing in the future of many; it gives someone the ability to pursue a research opportunity that they may not have otherwise. It is our chance to lend our support to those that need it with a much greater return than any game that we play." The SAM's and Shoot Out have created a tradition of successful student-athlete alumni from UVa like Melissa who now balances a professional career with volunteer youth volleyball coaching; from the 2009 class, men's lacrosse player Joe Dewey has gone on to an internship with Athletes-in-Action; and from 2007 another men's soccer goal keeper, Kyle Rudzinski spent the following summer biking across America to help others build homes.

Among the other goals and accomplishments of Shoot Out are that student-athletes learn about organization, project development, follow-through, the world of details and being a part of a community as special as Charlottesville. They also gain the satisfaction of helping others while truly forming bonds between the University and the community.

This year, the event will take place on May 2nd at the University of Virginia, and our athletes look forward to continuing this program's success.