Baseball team aims to strike out cancer with philanthropic efforts

Jaci Siegert

Vs. Cancer is a national event that pairs athletic teams with the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. The baseball team participated in the 2021 event in their game against Shoemaker and fundraised over $4000 to be ranked in the top three in the nation. 

Head baseball coach James Dillard said that he is honored to be a part of the event and is proud of what the team did within the school and community.

“Every year we try to do something as a baseball family and this was something we have been wanting to do for the past couple of years,” Dillard said. “It was an opportunity for the team to get out there and do something good, especially after COVID had shut down many of the things we usually do.”

Charlie Van Eman, a first grader at Sam Houston Elementary, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma on July 24, 2020. His school had the superhero parade for him the same day as the baseball game and Charlie told his mother that “it was the best day ever!”

“We had a little guy come throw out the first pitch,” Dillard said. “He is a cancer survivor, and we recognized people who have lost the fight against cancer or who are currently fighting cancer and held placards up with their names.”

The team wanted to get Charlie involved with the game to help connect the community and the team and put a face on what it means to be a cancer survivor.

“It just felt good to throw out the first pitch,” Charlie said. “The other best part was Bryan High winning the baseball game.”

Charlie’s parents felt grateful for the district’s collaboration with their family throughout this difficult journey. 

“We have been in awe at the community involvement in our journey,” Charlie’s mother Angela Van Eman said. “Bryan, Texas is truly a great place to live. We never thought cancer would be part of our family story but that changed for us last summer.  The overwhelming burden of fighting cancer has been more than offset by the amount of unconditional support we have received.”

The baseball team hoped to include Charlie and his family to as a show of support and encouragement.

“The game was a very special moment to have the baseball team include Charlie,” Van Eman said. “He has missed out on several events this past year, so seeing him smile that night will always be something we remember.”

James Dillard’s son, Easton, is also a first grader and his parents wanted to use this opportunity to teach Easton about helping others.

“Easton was excited to participate because the event included the baseball boys,” assistant principal and coach’s wife Stephanie Dillard said. “He was also excited because he was able to put Mrs. Clark’s name on a placard. She is his art teacher and is currently battling cancer.”

Sophomore baseball player Romeo Romero found a deeper meaning within the game and recognized the involvement of the community.

“Participating in this event meant that we were not only raising money but that we were also playing for the people that are battling cancer,” Romeo said. “The best part of the event during the vs. cancer game was seeing Charlie throw the first pitch and have fun.”

Other team members appreciated the coming together of both the school district and the community.

“We have a lot of great people in our community around us,” freshman baseball player Rylan Hill said. “Being able to see the efforts put in by my teammates to help raise awareness for a matter as serious as cancer was amazing.”

Along with the community’s inclusion, the team grew compassionate toward not only Charlie but the event in general. 

“We’ve got some pretty tough dudes on our team and it looked like some of them were about to cry,” junior baseball player Hunter Harlin said. “I loved seeing the compassion and how some soft sides were brought out. I think that says a lot about this community we’ve built in Bryan.”

Not only was the baseball team involved, but the umpires, other team, and all visitors supported the cause at the game.

“Seeing the community support the event and how they showed up to make it happen was amazing,” Dillard said. “That was the most uplifting thing.”

Both James and Stephanie Dillard look to events like the vs. cancer game to instill values in their own children and the students and athletes they see each day. 

“Any time we can take the focus off the individual achievements or the win column and instead use the platform of baseball for good purposes other than themselves,” Stephanie Dillard said. “It was good to pay homage to people that they love and have possibly lost. James and I both, when I was a coach, always say at parent meetings that we like wins, but we want to create better human beings.”