37 seasons. 256 wins. One national championship. More than 70,000 potential lives saved. These are just a few accomplishments of Andy Talley, head football coach of the Villanova Wildcats. Talley will retire from coaching following the 2016 season, but his commitment to saving the lives of those suffering from blood cancer will continue long after he walks off the field for the last time.
Answering the Call
In 1992, Talley was listening to the radio when he heard a fact that would change his life: Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer, like leukemia or lymphoma. For tens of thousands of these patients a bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant could be their cure – yet only half receive the potentially life-saving transplant they need.
“When I heard the devastating odds of those in need of a transplant, I immediately knew that I had to do something,” Talley said. “With 90 young healthy football players on my team and the power of collegiate football behind me, I knew I could recruit donors and hopefully make an impact.”
Recognizing that his young and healthy football players had the potential to become marrow donors, and use their clout on campus to recruit others to join, Talley set out to educate his players and the community about the opportunity to save the life of a stranger by joining the Be The Match Registry®.
A Team of Ideal Donors
Talley had an important audience on his team. 18-24 year old males are the ideal bone marrow donors. In general, the younger a person is, the healthier their marrow and because men tend to have more body mass than women, they have more marrow to give.
Additionally, since patients in need of a transplant are more likely to match someone who shares their ethnic ancestry, the diversity of his team played an important role, too. Currently, African American patients have the lowest odds of finding a match compared to all other populations and make up only 6 percent of the registry, a fact that stunned Talley.
Beyond recruiting his players to join the registry, Talley began hosting donor registry drives on the Villanova campus and raising funds to cover the costs of tissue typing. At every drive, Talley emphasized how easy it is to join the registry and potentially save a life—all it takes is a swab of cheek cells; no blood is drawn. In 2008, Be The Match® approached Talley with the idea of working together to expand his on-campus drive efforts and the “Get in the Game. Save a Life” (GITG) initiative was born.
Spreading the Word
Since then, more than 75 other college football programs have enlisted to participate in GITG, which has led to nearly 71,000 new registry members, more than 300 of whom have matched with and donated to a patient in need. One of these donors is Chicago Cub and former Villanova football and baseball star, Matt Szczur, whose donation story was recently featured by ESPN.
“Coach Talley gave me the opportunity to save someone’s life,” Szczur said. “What’s more motivating than that?”
In addition to his involvement with the GITG initiative, Talley also runs The Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation which has donated more than $375,000 to assist with covering the costs of adding new members to the registry.
The Commitment Continues
It’s important to Coach Talley that his mission of getting more committed donors on the registry doesn’t retire when he does. His successor, Assistant Coach Mike Ferrante, sits on The Board of Directors of The Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation, and he will continue to share the message that anyone can save a life. And Talley plans to deepen his involvement supporting this worthy cause after his final season with the Wildcats.
“With a lot more time on my hands, I am looking forward to increasing awareness and recruiting a ton of coaches to join our Get in the Game initiative,” said Talley. “It is my dream to have every college football team nationwide host a drive and join our passion of saving lives.”
For more information about marrow donation, and the need for young men to join the registry, visit BeTheGuy.org.