OSWEGO — It took about seven days for Rich Wagner to become the top fundraiser for the 14th Annual St. Baldrick’s Day in Oswego County.
Wagner, a former SUNY Oswego lacrosse player whose son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in 2017, signed up for the annual head-shaving event last week. The Elbridge resident shared it via email and social media, and asked everyone to continue to spread the word.
As of Monday afternoon, Wagner leads all fundraisers with more than $8,000 collected for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which was created in 2004 to provide funding to conquer childhood cancer.
Wagner and nearly 100 others are expected to shave their heads at the 14th Annual St. Baldrick’s Day in Oswego County event at the Lake Ontario Event and Conference Center Sunday, March 29, from 1-4 p.m.
“Our family has received incredible support not only for us directly, but for St. Baldrick’s,” said Wagner, who is participating for a third straight year. “This is a way for people to get involved, contribute and feel good about finding a solution for pediatric cancer.”
Wagner’s Team #22 has raised more than $10,500, more than $4,000 ahead of the Fulton Police Benevolent Association in second place.
Team #22 is in honor of Nate Wagner, Rich’s youngest son, who wore the number when he played lacrosse. Since being diagnosed with neuroblastoma in July 2017, the Jordan-Elbridge High School junior has endured more than 32 months of chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries, immunotherapy and has spent more than 175 nights in the hospital.
Now 16, Nate is starting his third clinical drug trial, something that wouldn’t have been an option just five or six years ago, Wagner said.
Wagner is still looking for more donations and members of Team #22. Wagner is encouraged by a line he repeats: “Research will find a cure.”
“I believe some of these studies and tests they’re doing now (will lead to a cure), they just need more funding so they can get approval for that and bring it to market quicker,” Wagner said.
Dan Witmer, the volunteer event organizer and former SUNY Oswego men’s lacrosse coach, has been impressed with how much Wagner has raised in such a short amount of time.
“He’s got a tremendous support team at home in Jordan-Elbridge — family, teachers and coaches,” Witmer said. “The minute Rich signed up, registered and spread the word, his donations have been fantastic. I can’t imagine as a parent going through what he and his wife are going through. He doesn’t have to do this. He doesn’t have to get involved, but he chooses to.”
Since Witmer and the SUNY Oswego men’s lacrosse program started the event in Oswego County 14 years ago, the program and its participants have raised more than $750,000.
Although Witmer no longer coaches the team, he uses the annual event as a chance to keep in touch with alumni. The list of former players and coaches volunteering and donating over the years is extensive, he said.
Former Laker all-conference midfielder Jason Hawthorne brought his St. Baldrick’s know-how to East Syracuse-Minoa High School, where he now teaches social studies, and the two groups frequently collaborate.
“They’re committed to the cause,” Witmer said. “Our event helps them and they help us.”
Witmer compares his numbers to where they were a year ago every single day. In 2019, the event raised more than $83,000 and this year’s goal has been set at $90,000.
As of Monday afternoon, nearly $45,000 had been raised.
“I’m very excited and proud to say we’re ahead of the pace by $3-4,000 every day,” Witmer said. “We’re very pleased. We’ve raised over $39,000 with three weeks to go.”
Individuals seeking to assist in the St. Baldrick’s effort can volunteer, donate online or shave their head. For more information, go to www.stbaldricks.org/events/OswegoCounty2020.