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The Game of Their Lives
Once again, the MACC Fund takes the annual journey back to its roots.

Jon McGlocklin accepts a check from the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association at last year's game.

You go to the MACC Fund’s website, click through to the Stories of Hope portion, and then hold your breath.

Because you know that, however much hope the stories deliver, they’re coming with an overdose of pain. Because when you’re dealing with cancer, how can you possibly avoid dealing with pain? And when you see pictures of bald children, how do you avoid holding your breath?

But here’s the thing. You breathe again. Because hope is good. So are the stories that highlight it. And creating both is exactly what Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer is all about.

I bring this up because they’re playing the annual MACC Fund game on Saturday, just as the Milwaukee Bucks have done 35 other times since the inaugural one in 1977. Proceeds from the game go toward the nonprofit organization’s mandate to research treatments and cures of childhood cancers and blood disorders. Ramifications go far beyond that.

And as he’s done so many times before, and will do countless times again, Jon McGlocklin wants to deliver a gentle reminder. “There would be no MACC Fund,” its co-founder and president says, “without the Milwaukee Bucks.” He’s been with the franchise since its inaugural season in 1968, and in a way, kick-starting the movement was the team’s gift to McGlocklin when he retired as a player. Which means it’s the gift that’s kept on giving.

You can put monetary totals on it. It started with $35,000 worth of donations raised in the MACC Fund’s first year, a time when fundraising meant passing the hat at McGlocklin’s speaking engagements. By the end of this year, says longtime executive director John Cary, the MACC Fund will have given an estimated $45 million to its beneficiaries.

And yes, that money’s important. It supports all those efforts at the Medical College of Wisconsin and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin’s Carbone Cancer Center. Without the cash, the MACC Fund disappears.

But mere dollar figures provide only a sketch of the MACC Fund’s impact. To fill in the color, to see the details, you have to go deeper.

You have to hear Cary reminisce about a journey that started back in 1982, when he became executive director. “February 15th,” he says, the date still etched in his mind. “It was a big day. Next to my wedding and the births of our children, it’s the most significant day.”

You have to watch his eyes stare off into the distance as he speaks of children who made it. You have to keep watching as he speaks of attending yet another funeral that makes no sense. And you have to marvel at his seemingly unflappable nature through it all. “I never have trouble with perspective,” he says. “Perspective is a big part of hope, and I think, given what we do, there’s always hope.”

You have to hear the awe in McGlocklin’s voice when he recalls strangers waylaying him in public, tears in their eyes, thanking him for helping a relative. You have to keep listening as he chokes up while recalling the aftermath of a visit, one he made 33 years ago, to an 8-year-old patient. “I stopped halfway down the hall, and I lost it,” he says, “and I realized in that moment, this is very difficult, but it’s the most important thing I could do in my life.”

You have to click through to those Stories of Hope, read the words of the parents and kids who wrote them, empathize at the highs and the lows. You have to take it all in, and remember to breathe.

And you’ll see more stories play out Saturday. Cary still can’t get over how “7-foot giants melt with a child.” But you don’t have to be that tall.

“Every human being hates cancer and every human being loves children, even if they’re across the road,” McGlocklin says. “You put the two together with athletics, and I think those ingredients make it work.”

Tipoff is 7:30 p.m. The pregame Kidsfest starts at 5 p.m. Tickets are still on sale. And yes, it’s a just preseason game, so in that sense, the result won’t matter.

Other results most certainly will.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, where I tweet as howiemag. And listen to me chat sports with Mitch Teich monthly on WUWM's "Lake Effect."

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