Saint Leo Men's Baseball Team Gives Heartily at Blood Drive

November 25, 2008

The community blood bank in Pasco County, Fla., is a little richer this holiday season because of the Saint Leo University’s men’s baseball team, and their head coach, Russ McNickle.

Before most students left for the Thanksgiving holiday, Coach McNickle made sure that BloodNet USA, the community blood bank, had an opportunity to come to the university’s main campus and educate some his young athletes on the importance of giving blood. To clinch the deal, the coach, working with BloodNet, made sure the players actually had the chance to donate a pint.

Coach McNickle, who is new to Saint Leo this year, managed all this by introducing the concept of a "Blood Bowl" to Saint Leo’s traditional fall practice season. The coach had seen the idea work at other schools, and wanted to try it here.

His game plan: divide the 40-player squad into two opposing teams, each identified by the color of the shirts they wore, gold or black. The Coach told them they’d be playing a five-game series over the course of two weeks in November.

Only after the first game did the players learn of the unique "prize" in this series.

"Ultimately, the losing team has to donate blood," Coach McNickle explained, meaning of course, only the players who are both willing and medically able to donate.

The coach invited Greg First, an educator from BloodNet USA, to explain why this is actually a fun and important activity.

In Central Florida, as in many other areas, supplies of blood run low after the summer vacation months. That’s a predicament for the local blood banks when winter residents return to Florida in large numbers, and the inventories of blood donations haven’t kept pace with the sudden influx of population.

Many of the players, in fact, did not know how critical blood supplies can be to accident victims and other hospital patients. According to BloodNet, someone needs blood every two seconds. And the shelf life of blood is only 42 days.

"What I’m trying to do is teach the players life skills and community service," Coach McNickle said when he launched the "Blood Bowl" series.

If the athletes would agree to the concept, Coach McNickle said, at the end of the series he would "feel like we’ve done something good for the community, and hopefully saved some lives during the holiday season."

He specifically hoped he could get 30 individuals to donate blood – more than the number of players on either the gold or black team. But, he explained, he wouldn’t only encourage the "losers" to agree to donate a pint. He would ask the "winners" to be gracious and do the same.

In the meantime, all the players would be on the field, working together, advancing their skills in a competitive situation.

The games proceeded through the week of Nov. 10. At first, the "black" team charged ahead and appeared to hold a firm lead. But on Nov. 13, the "gold" team came from behind in a double-header and clinched the series 3-2.

The enthusiasm was still high the following Monday afternoon, when the BloodNet Bloodmobile cruised onto campus and parked outside the Marion Bowman Activities Center.

"It’s going to be good," said 20-year old junior Caleb Fuddy. "It’s for a good cause."

Coach McNickle led the way, and players from both teams participated.

Many were first-time donors, who, as the Coach had predicted, had not previously known much about a blood drive. The sting from a needle prick, it turned out, didn’t even compare to the twinges that come with normal baseball play, such as scraped knees, said another player, Kyle Hobbs, a senior.

The turnout met and beat the coach’s goal: the players and others from the university community donated 31 pints. "We’re pretty pleased," Coach McNickle reported.