Former local baseball player's foundation fights childhood cancer
Chase Jones dreams big dreams.
Growing up, he wanted to be president of the United States.
And like any boy who spends much of his youth playing baseball, he also dreamed of someday making it to the majors.
Today, though, at 24, the former Ragsdale and University of North Carolina player harbors an even bigger dream — a dream larger than his own life, and one that transcends anything he could ever do from the White House or the clubhouse.
He dreams of defeating childhood cancer.
“We have such a long way to go,” Jones says softly. “I just yesterday attended the funeral of a girl I know who lost her battle to cancer. It’s a reality. And I’m committed to the idea of making a difference in the lives of children with cancer.”
To that end, Jones recently established his own nonprofit organization, the Raleigh-based Vs. Cancer Foundation, which raises funds for local children’s hospitals and for cancer research projects around the world. The fledgling foundation already has raised approximately $135,000 since becoming fully operational in January.
One of the foundation’s primary means of raising money is soliciting baseball teams — minor-leaguers, college and high-school teams, even youth leagues — to host head-shaving events, during which players get their heads shaved and collect pledges for doing so.
Such an event will be held Friday at Jones’ alma mater, when Ragsdale and Southwest Guilford players and coaches will go bald to support the cause. Thousands of dollars have already been pledged for the event, according to the two teams’ coaches.
Jones loves these events. He may not be the president of the United States, but he believes he’s found a far more important dream to pursue.
“If my career needs to be unglamorously running around the country to get a bunch of baseball players to shave their heads, and if that’s gonna help find a cure for cancer, then I’ll be the guy to do it,” he says.
Why does Jones have such a passion for what he’s doing? And why does he have such confidence that it can make a difference?
It’s because he’s already defeated childhood cancer one time.
* * * *
In the fall of 2006, when Jones was an 18-year-old freshman at UNC, he began experiencing severe headaches. The headaches puzzled him — he’d never had headaches before, or even been sick very often — and doctors struggled to pinpoint the cause.
Finally, after several visits to the student health center, a doctor suggested doing a CAT scan.
“Next thing you know,” Jones recalls, “I was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer.”
That was Oct. 4, 2006, four months to the day after Jones graduated from Ragsdale. On Oct. 5, he underwent surgery to remove the tumor. Chemotherapy treatments began soon after, and then radiation.
Jones withdrew him from the university for the fall semester, took some online courses in the spring, and then returned as a full-time student in the fall of 2007. He also rejoined the Tar Heel baseball team.
“When I went back to the baseball field, my teammates honored me by shaving their heads,” recalls Jones, who is now cancer-free.
“I was personally inspired by this, but it really resonated with our fans, too. I kept trying to think of a way that we, as student-athletes, could help kids who were battling cancer, and that’s when I came up with the idea of shaving our heads after a game to raise money.”
The 2010 fundraiser, which was dubbed Basebald for the Cure, raised about $5,000 for the pediatric oncology program at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center in Chapel Hill. The 2011 event raised about $14,000.
Jones graduated that spring and took his Basebald concept to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money for childhood cancer research. Working with St. Baldrick’s, he was able to expand Basebald to about 40 baseball programs across the country, which no doubt raised a lot of money for cancer research.
In the back of his mind, though, he kept thinking about the Basebald events in Chapel Hill, and how the money had gone directly to the local children’s cancer center.
“Don’t get me wrong, because I appreciate the research — I wouldn’t be here today without research — but I wanted to help in local communities, too,” Jones explains. “I went back and forth in my mind, until I came up with an idea: Why not help both?”
So in December, Jones left the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and established the Vs. Cancer Foundation, with the idea of having head-shaving events and other fundraisers across the country, with half of the proceeds going to a local children’s cancer center, and half going to cancer research.
“That way,” Jones says, “not only are we helping the child of tomorrow through research, we’re also helping kids today.”
* * * *
It all sounds great in theory, but when you get right down to it, how difficult is it to get a bunch of young men to shave their heads?
Not that difficult, as it turns out. Once coaches and players hear Jones’ personal story and understand what he’s trying to do, they usually get on board pretty quickly.
“Most guys will get behind it and shave their heads,” he says. “It’s a very easy way to make a statement, and on top of that, people give financially to that statement that these athletes are making. All I’m doing is enabling these athletes to use their platform.”
The coaches at Ragsdale and Southwest Guilford had no trouble getting their players to join the effort.
“We are honored to be supporting his cause at Ragsdale,” says head baseball coach Donnie Maness, who coached Jones at Ragsdale. “Our boys and their families have already secured over $4,000, and most of our guys are willing to go bald for the cause. I think Friday night will be a very special night at Ragsdale.”
Southwest’s head coach, Reid Holmes, agrees.
“I think what he’s doing is fantastic, so we were very quick to get on board,” Holmes says, adding that Jones actually came and spoke to his team about the event.
“I told my guys that at some point in their life, every one of them will be affected by this disease, so it makes sense for us to be involved. “We’re competitors on the field, but off the field we’re all in this fight together.”
Proceeds from Friday night’s fundraiser will be split, with half of the money going to the oncology program at Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem, and half going to the Rally Foundation, a nonprofit that awards grants for childhood cancer research.
“I’m so glad and thankful to be doing what I’m doing, because I feel like we can make a difference,” Jones says. “And as long as I’m still here and kids are still dying of cancer, this is what I’ll keep doing.”
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Want to go?
The varsity baseball teams of Ragsdale and Southwest Guilford high schools will play each other Friday, at 7 p.m., at Ragsdale.
Following the game, players and coaches from both teams will get their heads shaved as part of a fundraiser for the Vs. Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to battling childhood cancer.
To contribute to one of the teams’ efforts, go to the following websites:
• Ragsdale: www.stayclassy.org/fundraise/team?ftid=22386
• Southwest Guilford: www.stayclassy.org/fundraise/team?ftid=22385
For more information about the Vs. Cancer Foundation, visit http://vs-cancer.org.