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Articles / 2014

High school teams have a ball for charity

Camarillo Acorn
By Rick Hazeltine

Six years ago, the parents of the boys on Rio Mesa High School's basketball team approached head coach Chris Ruffinelli and asked him to help them find a way for the teens to give back to the community.

Ruffinelli said he decided to partner with Community Memorial Healthcare Foundation, the charity arm of Ventura-based Community Memorial Health System, to give his players an opportunity to raise money for cancer prevention and detection.

"Unfortunately, cancer is one of those things that pretty much has touched everyone's lives," Ruffinelli said.

So in 2009, Ball It Up For Cancer tipped off.

The event uses the large crowds drawn by the crosstown rivalry games between Rio Mesa and Camarillo high schools to raise money to combat cancer.

This year's event starts tonight with Camarillo hosting Rio Mesa. The frosh/soph game is at 4 p.m., followed by the junior varsity at 5:30 and the varsity game at 7.

Last year, Ball It Up For Cancer raised more than $6,000 for prostate and mammogram testing. Over the past five years, the event has raised $30,000, Ruffinelli said.

The money is used to pay insurance deductibles for those who can't afford them at the Centers for Family Health in Camarillo and Oxnard. The 12 clinics throughout West Ventura County are part of CMHS, which also includes Ojai Valley Community Hospital and Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura.

"The American Cancer Society does a great job," Ruffinelli said. "But we wanted the money to stay local, and CMH has allowed us to do that."

The second round of games will be Feb. 12, when Rio Mesa hosts Camarillo.

Another event was added this year when Ruffinelli was approached by a Ventura County sheriff's deputy who proposed a basketball game between deputies and the officers from the Oxnard Police Department.

Proceeds from the charity game, tentatively set for March, will go to Ball It Up For Cancer.

Ruffinelli said the idea to create a fundraiser that brings together Rio Mesa and Camarillo basketball players was intended to ease tensions between the rival schools.

Although there was some animosity between the communities, Ruffinelli discovered that wasn't the case with the players.

In fact, he found out, players from Rio Mesa and Camarillo would play pickup games every weekend at the 24 Hour Fitness in Camarillo.

"There's a friendship and relationship among the players," Ruffinelli said. "It gave the two schools a chance to play for something that's bigger than a basketball game."

The fundraiser has also been recognized outside the two cities. The California Interscholastic Federation, the state governing body for high school sports, awarded Camarillo and Rio Mesa with its Character Counts Award.

When the idea was set for Ball It Up For Cancer, Ruffinelli said, "the parents took it and ran with it."

The first year, fundraising consisted primarily of selling Tshirts and sweatshirts. Since then, parents from both schools give donations and make gift baskets that are raffled off at the games.

At tonight's game, longtime sports columnist and author Woody Woodburn will sign copies of his book, "Wooden and Me," with $5 from every book purchase going to Ball It Up For Cancer.

Ruffinelli said he's hoping to raise close to $10,000 this year, especially with the addition of the basketball game between the two police agencies. Even if the event doesn't reach that mark, Ruffinelli said, he's impressed by how the communities have embraced Ball It Up For Cancer.

"It has grown way more than I ever expected it to," he said. "Really, it's thanks to all the parents who have worked on it over the past six years.

"Without all of these parents at both schools, this would not have gotten to where it is."