Commentary

How #Chillin4Charity caught fire

Arizona coach ignites hoops nation with cause benefiting Kay Yow Cancer Fund

Originally Published: July 3, 2014
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW.com

Start with a big vat of "I dare you." Add a huge helping of "for a great cause." Sprinkle in "humorous discomfort." Serve up on social media.

What do you get? #Chillin4Charity, which continues to spread goose bumps and goodwill throughout the nation's women's basketball community.

The movement, which is also known as the "Cold Water Challenge" and was started by Arizona coach Niya Butts and her staff in June, is raising money for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. But it's also done something else.

[+] EnlargeNiya Butts
Courtesy Arizona Athletics When they launched #Chillin4Charity, Niya Butts and her Arizona players challenged other Pac-12 members. The challenge quickly spread from coast to coast.

"It's united a lot of us," Butts said of her fellow coaches. "We all compete against each other in recruiting and the games, but we also have this big monster that has impacted all of our lives.

"So many of us have been touched by this awful disease. This is a way to give back in a fun way, and to do it in memory of a woman who had a profound impact on what we are doing. And it's a way for everybody to be involved, and see that one person can make a difference."

The challenges have gone beyond the coaches, though, to players, administrators, officials, media and fans. People have been creative about how they've "chilled" themselves: with large buckets or chests filled with ice and water, submersing in hydrotherapy tubs, and jumping (or being, uh, gently aided) into cold swimming pools.

Tennessee's Holly Warlick and Pat Summitt took their challenge with swim masks, as did a few other coaches, such as Lin Dunn of the WNBA's Indiana Fever. (Dunn had a particularly funny screaming reaction to being "chilled.") Baylor coach Kim Mulkey took a large bucket of ice water to the noggin, then got tossed into a pool by her team. Oklahoma's Sherri Coale and a couple of her players got their drenching from members of the Sooner football squad. And four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin helped Lindsay Gottlieb and her Cal players meet their challenge.

Butts started the challenge with "callouts" to some of her fellow Pac-12 coaches, saying if they responded in 48 hours, she would donate $50 in their names to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. If they didn't accept, they were to donate $250. For assistant coaches, the amounts were $25 and $100. For players, the challenge currency was hours of community service.

Since then, the challenges have morphed for different amounts by different people. And there's also a similar "tag, you're it" challenge system going on now with other sports, especially golf. Several LPGA players, for instance, are taking part in what's called the "Ice Bucket Challenge," with funds going to each players' charity of choice.

The Arizona-generated #Chillin4Charity challenge, though, is united behind just one charity, and it's in honor of a coach who was universally held in the highest regard.

Butts, who as a player was part of two NCAA championship teams at Tennessee (1997, '98), often heard Pat Summitt and her fellow coaches talking about Yow, who died in January 2009 after a fight with cancer that stretched more than two decades.

"As a coach myself, unfortunately I didn't get an opportunity to sit down with Coach Yow and talk the game of basketball," Butts said. "But being around Pat and all those guys, I felt like I knew a lot about her."

Sue Donohoe, director of the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, is a former coach, administrator and NCAA executive. When asked how quickly Yow would have embraced #Chillin4Charity, Donohoe laughed.

"I think not only would she have been the first to do it at NC State," Donohoe said, "but then she'd have gone town-to-town to help the other coaches do it, too. Don't you know Kay, Betty Jaynes and Sue Gunter are all up there laughing now at people dumping ice water on themselves?"

Jaynes, the former executive director of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association, died in February. Gunter, the longtime women's hoops coach who spent the bulk of her career at LSU, died in 2005. And, indeed, anyone who knew them would agree that they'd have been right there to accept and toss out a freezing-water challenge.

Butts said that when her assistant coach, Calamity McEntire -- a former manager at Tennessee -- came to her and first suggested such a challenge, it was more for the fun of it. Something they could do with fellow Pac-12 coaches for a laugh.

"We'd seen other things like this [on the Internet]; it's been done a whole lot of different ways," Butts said. "But then we thought, 'If there's not something more important attached to it, will people actually do it?'"

And to those in the women's basketball community, the Yow fund is a touchstone rallying cause. The more Butts thought about it, the more she realized it would also work because -- let's face it -- coaches are hypercompetitive.

"Don't you know it," Butts said, chuckling. "You're not going to get called out and not do it. This is one of those times when peer pressure is a good thing.

"You can release some stress and make fun of your buddies. You get to see coaches in a different element. The camaraderie amongst our coaches has gotten better because of this, I think. We're all together in this fight."

Butts said her grandmother is a cancer survivor, and she had an aunt who died from the disease in May. Ultimately, of course, the bottom line to all this drenching is to raise money to battle cancer. Donohoe said the full monetary impact of #Chillin4Charity won't be known for a while.

"One thing that we've asked folks is, if they do an online donation, they can comment that it's for #Chillin4Charity," Donohoe said. "Or if they send a check, to note #Chillin4Charity on it. It's going to take us a couple of months before we get a final read on it from a financial standpoint.

"But from a social-media standpoint, you can't put a measuring stick on this. It's been incredible in raising awareness. When Niya and Calamity and the staff at Arizona called us with this idea, we said, 'Let's try it.' I don't think any of us knew what the reach of this could be. That's been really, really fun to see."

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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