They came from across Michigan and as far away as California to show their mettle -- and their generosity -- on the gridiron at the Big House.
The women who participated in the University of Michigan's 14th annual Women's Football Academy this year broke records for their commitment, selling out all 500 slots for the first time and raising $144,000 to fund programs at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center. The 2012 event, which hosted many repeat participants, brings the total raised over nearly a decade-and-a-half to more than $1.3 million.
But, the participants say, the real reward isn't getting one-on-one coaching from players or learning to decode the plays and football terms their husbands toss around. It's knowing that they're helping a cancer patient to get needed support that insurance companies often don't cover.
The U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center is renowned for its cutting-edge research and innovative clinical programs to improve patient outcomes, but less well known is its equally multidisciplinary approach to supporting patients and their families.
Only through philanthropic generosity is the U-M able to offer more than 30 services designed to reduce the burden of cancer for patients and families facing diagnosis, treatment and recovery. From psychological counseling to art and music therapy, multimedia education to a consumer health library, the Patient and Family Support Services Program steps in to provide the support needed to survive - and thrive - throughout the cancer journey.
For example, the Cancer Center's Helping Hands Fund, which is entirely funded through private donations, helps families in financial need cover the cost of transportation to and from appointments, lodging and meals for out-of-area patients, specialty wound care, and funds to help pay for medical equipment and prescriptions that many patients would otherwise be unable to afford. A wig bank provides patients with donated hair pieces and head coverings.
"Even small donations have the power to make a huge difference in patients' lives, even if it's something as simple as helping a patient to afford gasoline to get to a needed appointment," says Dana Selwitz-Zacks, manager of the Amenities and Practical Assistance Program.
Karen Hammelef, director of Patient and Family Support Services, has witnessed countless instances of the ability of these programs to make big impacts by addressing not just a patient's body, but the whole patient and also the patient's family.
"One of our most important supporters has been the Women's Football Academy," she says. "We would not exist without it. The academy has provided the funds to build the foundation of each supportive program we offer. Every year, we are able to use the money raised at this event to address another patient support need."
Terri Dorsey, of West Bloomfield, who participated in the Women's Football Academy for the fourth time this year, says the program is a great marriage a great time with support for a great cause. The annual program is specially-created for the football novice -- and exclusively for women -- with players and coaching staff guiding the participants through the basics of offense and defense, including drills, blocking, passing, kicking and more.
"I absolutely love Michigan football," Dorsey says. "I got to have Denard Robinson show me how to throw a pass. And last year Taylor Lewan was holding onto the pad I was pushing against and feigning that I was going to throw him over because I was pushing so hard."
And while Dorsey loves to make the men in her life "soooo jealous" that she's scrimmaged on the field of the Big House and rubbed elbows with players they've only seen on TV, she says knowing all that fun is benefiting cancer patients and their families is an even better feeling.
"My dad died from lung cancer, so I know that if he was around, he would definitely benefit from what we're doing," she says.
Dorsey's daughter Erica, a U-M engineering alumna who is now a lawyer in Stamford, Conn., came home to participate for the second year in a row. "She loves U-M football and she has the memory of her grandfather in mind. She appreciates being able to help cancer patients like him."
As for the men, they'll just have to stay jealous.
"Bo Schembechler wasn't a big believer in women's football, but I'm sure he's up there saying, 'I'll make an exception for this,'" she says.