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Youth Sports Hero of the Month: Mark Mannarn (North York, Ontario, Canada)

"Life is a challenge. Meet it."

Mother Teresa  

For 12-year-old Mark Mannarn of the North York Knights Pee Wee AA hockey team, 2010 was a challenging year. Soon after his grandmother died of pancreatic cancer, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Most pre-teens do not confront profound personal setbacks in such rapid succession, yet Mark responded resolutely.

In the fall of 2010, Mark attended his school's program for "We Day," a global youth initiative that encourages young people to make a difference in the world. The school program gave him an idea. With his father's support and important help, he created a fundraiser - Minor Hockey Fights Cancer "Feel Like a Pro Day" (MHFC)("Minor hockey" is Canada's name for what Americans call "youth hockey.")  Mark's successful MHFC initiative has made him a prominent Canadian philanthropist. Mark Mannarn

"I love hockey. I hate cancer."

"After losing my Grandmother and then seeing my Mom's courageous battle," Mark says, "I wanted to do something that makes a difference. With ‘Feel Like a Pro Day,' kids like me can get involved in the fight against cancer while doing a sport they love." MHFC's credo? "I love hockey. I hate cancer."

"Feel Like a Pro Day" raises donations that help the Canadian Cancer Society care for cancer patients and their families while seeking a cure for this dreaded disease. The first annual Day was held at Toronto's York University on June 16, 2011, when more than 240 boys and girls between 6 and 16 practiced their hockey skills in an hour-long clinic conducted by present and former National Hockey League stars, including Hall of Famers Paul Coffey (the father of Mark's close friend) and Dale Hawerchuk. Each participating youngster had raised at least $200 in sponsorships for the Society, and youngsters who raised at least $1000 also played in a Gold Medal Game with the pros.

Mark's ambitious goal was to raise $100,000, but he more than doubled that amount when Scotia Bank and other corporate sponsors joined the youth leaguers' efforts. By the time the dust had settled, Feel Like a Pro Day had produced "the largest amount raised by an individual event organized as part of the Community Partnerships Program in Canadian Cancer Society history." The Society reported that the amount was "so significant [that] it could fund an entire biomedical research grant for one year."

What does the future hold? "My dream," Mark says now, is to make Feel Like a Pro Day an annual event throughout Canada that "eventually raises one million dollars every year until a cure for cancer is found." "I don't think I will playing in the NHL," he adds, but "hopefully I will be running Minor Hockey Fights Cancer for the NHL one day."

"Feel Like a Pro Day" is June 16, 2012

The second annual "Feel Like a Pro Day" will be held on June 16 at York University. Young hockey players who secure $250 in sponsorships can still participate by registering on the MHFC website. Companies and other individuals may also donate. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce will again sponsor 60 players from low-income families, and it also agreed last month to donate one dollar (to a maximum of $25,000) for every "Like" generated on MHFC's Facebook page before the upcoming event.

The MHFC website describes two special events that will complement the fun of next month's on-ice clinic: "There will be two All Star Games with the pros. The top 30 fundraisers that raise over $1000 will be invited to play in the Top Fundraisers All Star Game with the pros. In honour of Father's Day, there will be a Father & Child All Star Game with the pros. The first 15 fathers that register and donate a minimum of $3000 will be invited to participate along with their child in the Father & Child All Star Game."

"Teachable Moments" From "Pint-Sized Fundraising"

The Canadian Cancer Society's Ontario branch reports that, with Mark Mannarn leading the way, three of its top ten fundraisers last year were children. The Toronto Globe and Mail calls the phenomenon "the new pint-sized wave of fundraising."

"We're definitely seeing more youth fundraising activity," says the branch's director of community outreach and innovation. "Kids are learning about the importance of philanthropy at a much younger age."

Perceptive coaches and parents seek out "teachable moments," golden opportunities to deliver positive lessons to their young players from a negative event. When the team loses a heartbreaker in the last moments of a hard fought game, for example, coaches and parents can stress the importance of shaking the opponents' hands gracefully and rebounding to prepare for the next contest. At one time or another, every athlete faces setbacks; the enduring lessons come not from the adversity, but from the reactions.

Mark Mannarn and the Canadian Cancer Society's other passionate young minor hockey supporters demonstrate that players too can seek out "teachable moments," golden opportunities to deliver positive lessons to the rest of us from their reactions to adversity.

Sources: Farah Mohamed, Taking a (Slap)shot at Cancer Cure, Globe & Mail (Canada), Nov. 29, 2011, p. L4; CIBC Helps Student Stick It to Cancer, http://finance.yahoo.com/news/cibc-helps-student-stick-cancer-140200852.... Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy (Age 5-17): Mark Mannarn, http://afptoronto.org/index.php/national-philanthropy-day/2011-award-rec... Mark Mannarn is a Man on a Mission, http://www.canadiansponsorshipforum.com/mark-mannarn-is-a-man-on-a-missi... http://www.weday.com/

Posted May 1, 2012