By Todd Cohen
RALEIGH, N.C. — Chase Jones loves baseball.
But his childhood dream of playing in the major leagues or coaching in college was shattered the fall of his freshman year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Pounding headaches sent him from varsity baseball practice to Campus Health Services, where he got a CAT scan and bioposy that found a tumor the size of a golf ball at the top of his brain stem that was blocking the flow of spinal fluid and causing the headaches.
He was diagnosed with Stage IV brain cancer, underwent surgery to remove the fluid, and then five rounds of chemotherapy.
During the treatment, which caused him to lose his hair and 20 pounds, his life changed.
Feeling frustrated and negative about life, he says, he had an insight when he saw young children nearby who also were receiving treatment.
“I got to go to the prom and college,” says Jones, whose cancer is in remission. “These kids didn’t know anything outside the hospital. For me to complain did injustice to those kids who were battling every day with smiles on their faces.”
So in the spring of 2010, after taking a year off for his treatment and returning to school the following fall, he persuaded his teammates, coaches, managers and trainers, a group of about 50 people, to shave their heads to raise money for the pediatric oncology program at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The event, dubbed BaseBald at UNC, raised $5,400, and a similar event a year later raised over $14,000, an effort that landed Jones the Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy Award last year from the Triangle chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
After graduating in 2011, Jones pitched the idea to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises money through head-shaving events to benefit kids with cancer.
Jones joined the Foundation just over a year ago as BaseBald and family relations coordinator, and last year helped raised over $375,000 through 40 head-shaving events by high school, college, minor league and youth baseball teams in 14 states.
“Both my doctors that treated me at UNC were funded by St. Baldrick’s,” he says. “Somebody shaved their head before me, and I’m here because of it.”
In the Triangle, teams that have participated in BaseBald include those at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University; Orange, Cedar Ridge, East Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill high schools; and North Wake Baseball in Wake Forest.
Now, Jones has formed his own charity, the Vs. Cancer Foundation, which has the mission of “saving kids’ lives by empowering athletes and communities to fund lifesaving childhood cancer efforts.”
“No one is going and actively seeking athletes,” he says, “and introducing them to the idea that as student and professional athletes, they themselves can directly make an impact on a child who’s battling cancer.”