There were a lot of Words emanating from a small section of hecklers behind the Abilene Christian University men’s basketball team bench at the McDermott Convocation Center in San Antonio last Thursday night. And they weren’t especially Incarnate.
Those Cardinal sins, while unpleasant, were forgivable; in part because no one is perfect (yes, including ACU fans), and in part because the verbal volleys lobbed by that vocal minority belied a far bigger and more important partnership going on that night between the two universities who find themselves joined at the hip – if not as Siamese twins, then perhaps like you’d be in a three-legged race.
ACU and the University of the Incarnate Word have been playing each other in a variety of sports for years, most notably on the baseball diamond in May 2010 when the two teams battled deep into the night twice in a rain-soaked NCAA Division II regional with each team winning once and the Wildcats eventually dealing the Cards a knockout blow. But the rivalry began in earnest when UIW entered the Lone Star Conference in 2010 as the only other private, faith-based institution besides ACU in a league of state universities.
Then, in 2013, both universities moved up from Division II to Division I and joined the Southland Conference. Though ACU co-founded the Southland in 1963, it had been 40 years since the Wildcats were last members. So the only school with which ACU had any real familiarity was Incarnate Word. That familiarity has bred more cooperation than contempt.
In October 2010, UIW invited ACU to participate in a food drive in San Antonio before the first-ever football game between the two teams. Fans from both teams were given a game ticket in exchange for three cans of food, all of which was donated to the San Antonio Food Bank. UIW wasn’t obligated to extend that ticket-for-food offer to ACU but did for the simple reason that more people bringing food equaled more food going to those who really needed it.
Last fall, UIW ticket manager Kevin LePore proposed a challenge to see which institution could get the most fans to donate blood. ACU, inspired by its 1960 Olympic gold medal hero and leukemia survivor Earl Young (’62), already had a drive in the works to register bone marrow donors. Close enough. The schools agreed UIW would be out for blood while ACU would mine for marrow.
For three days culminating in the aforementioned basketball game last week, more than 100 donors opened their hearts and veins. The drive’s primary beneficiary is Maya Sanders, an 11-year-old San Antonio girl – adopted as an honorary member of the Cardinals’ women’s basketball team this season – who needs monthly blood infusions to combat a rare autoimmune disease. (Read more about Maya’s story here.) Knowing what ACU is planning, UIW also registered 20 marrow donors as a gesture of good faith.
Now it’s our turn. On April 20-21, ACU will stage its campaign to register as many marrow donors as possible. Young will speak in Chapel on that Monday, and Delete Blood Cancer registration stations will be set up across campus. The entire process consists of completing an information form and swabbing the inside of the cheek. Only one percent of those who register are ever called upon to actually donate marrow. But that one percent included a woman in Germany who had never heard of Earl Young but who saved his life anyway.
I suppose ACU’s target number to win this specific competition with Incarnate Word would be around 120. But unlike the game last Thursday, UIW and its fans will be cheering us on to beat them. Because in this battle of blood relatives, everybody wins.