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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Verlin’s participation in Coaches vs. Cancer is personal

Don Verlin sits among 2,700 empty seats in the INB Performing Arts Center, roughly the same number of Spokane County residents diagnosed with cancer in 2015. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

For Idaho basketball coach Don Verlin, the fight against cancer became personal in the summer in 2005.

That’s when the telephone call came from his father, Bob, who smoked briefly as a young man but hadn’t touched a cigarette in four decades.

But the diagnosis was clear, and so utterly unfair: lung cancer.

Bob, a Navy veteran and retired machinist, died at the age of 69.

“You feel like, ‘Why him, and why us?’ but then you realize that a lot of people have to deal with this,” Verlin said. “But after you get over the initial shock, you learn a lot.”

For one thing, Verlin learned that he could help in the fight against cancer. He’s been involved for several years with Coaches vs. Cancer along with Gonzaga coach Mark Few. This year, he’s the honorary chairman of the Spokane fundraiser set for Sept. 24 at the Spokane Convention Center.

“First and foremost, we want to let people know that if you have cancer, you’re not alone; and for people who don’t, help those who do,” Verlin said last week at the INB Performing Arts Center.

Coincindentally, the hall has seating for 2,700 people – roughly the same number who were diagnosed with cancer last year in Spokane County. More than half were aided by the American Cancer Society, partly through the annual Coaches vs. Cancer fundraiser.

Drawing on his coaching talents, Verlin said, “My job is to motivate people who’ll be here that night to give money to help save a life.”

“And you are saving a life – you’re not giving the Heimlich maneuver or something like that, but giving money might save a life,” Verlin said.

The event is empowering for Verlin, who felt powerless when his father was stricken back home in California. Verlin was as assistant at Utah State, and got the news by telephone as he driving home after round of golf.

“It was a tough conversation,” said Verlin, the head coach at Idaho since 2008.

“Older people tell you they remember the day Kennedy was shot. This was like that,” said Verlin, who leaned on brothers Jeff and Ron. Living in Utah, Verlin had to settle for a supporting role as the family rallied around Bob.

Verlin took it upon himself to call his father every day – “not to be overbearing, and not to talk about the cancer.”

Now he’s taking a leading role in talking about it.

When Verlin was asked to take a leading role in Coaches vs. Cancer, “I said, ‘Heck, yeah, anything to help people raise money to fight this,’” Verlin said.