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The First Annual MBA ALS Basketball Challenge a Success

ECs Win a Hard-Fought Battle Against the RCs in the Prize4Life ALS Basketball Tournament.

HBS played host to Columbia, Stern, Tuck, Wharton, and Yale in the first annual MBA ALS Basketball Challenge on Saturday, December 2, 2006. The first rounds of play were held on campus at Shad hall during the day with the final game at the Briggs Athletic Center that evening. The tournament was a day-long event involving eight teams from the schools above, all coming together to help “compete in basketball, compete for prizes, compete for donations but most importantly compete for life.” After a day spent in round-robin play at Shad, both the HBS teams (ECs and RCs) emerged victorious and made their way to the finals.

While the two finalists were warming up, a quick chat with Prize4Life CEO Nate Boaz (MBA ’06) revealed that one of his greatest challenges was to raise awareness about ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), a fatal illness also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

ALS is a progressive fatal neurodegenerative illness that attacks motor neurons. When motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to control muscle movement is lost leading to paralysis. Unable to function, muscles atrophy. Eventually, all muscles under voluntary control are affected and patients in time lose their ability to walk, talk, swallow, and breathe. During this horrible process, the mind remains completely intact observing the loss of each function. When the diaphragm and chest muscles fail, patients stop breathing on their own. The majority of people with ALS die of respiratory failure within 3 to 5 years of noticing the symptoms.

The incidence of ALS is approximately 2 out of every 100,000 people which may amount to more than 640,000 people based on the 2005 World census. Thus, each year, over 128,000 people contract ALS and the same number of people die from it. And this from a disease whose root cause is unknown.

There is only one drug currently on the market that treats ALS. Rilutek, made by Sanofi-Aventis and aimed at symptomatic ALS relief. Unfortunately, Rilutek may only extend life an average of two months.

Current ALS research is conducted primarily in academic research centers and is funded through government grants and nonprofit donations. Tens of millions of dollars are spent on ALS research fellowships and grants each year. All of these efforts have resulted in numerous scientific findings and publications about the disease, but no new effective treatments have made it from the laboratory to the patient.

To accelerate this process, Prize4Life, a results-oriented nonprofit, was founded. The model used by Prize4Life is a novel one-it offers substantial prizes to scientists who solve the most critical scientific problems preventing the discovery of an effective ALS/MND treatment. It announced its $1 Million ALS/MND Biomarker Challenge on November 6, 2006, which is listed on Eli Lilly’s database for attracting prize-based research, called InnoCentive.

Avi Kremer (OI), who was diagnosed with ALS in 2004, and is the moving force behind Prize4Life, made his appearance a few minutes before the game, to a standing ovation from the audience. Having personally seen Avi as a part of my classes this term, his incredible battle with ALS never ceases to amaze me. Avi continually serves as a powerful and moving example of the strength of the human spirit, and dignity and humility. He has used these attributes and an iron will to advance the fight against ALS and stands as testimony of what one person can do to truly make a difference in the world. Avi was accompanied by Peter Bowen (OB), and Allison Kotzin (NI), both of whom have joined his crusade against ALS.

In terms of the final game, the ECs took some time getting warmed up, with the RCs quickly moving ahead 5-0 which included a confident three-pointer, bolstered by raucous support from the stands.

The ECs rallied to put up a strong defense, but the RCs were on a roll, taking up the score to 8-2. A decisive thrust from Seth “Never-give-up” Blackley (OE) and Kirk “Stealth” Allen (KSG), with two hoops apiece, eventually saw the ECs work back into the game, with the score at 13-12 (RC-EC). Eventually, with four minutes on the clock until half-time, the teams were tied at 18 points, when an aggressive play by Rob “No-love-lost” Buxton (OB) finally saw the ECs move ahead 27-25 at halftime.

Halftime was an entertaining break, with Tony Frangie (OB) anchoring the “three-point champ” and “hotshot” competitions, giving vent to classroom hostilities with a head-to-head shootout with Professor Frances Frei of the TOM faculty. Professor Frei and her colleagues Professors Hammond and Moon offered to multiply all the collections in the stand by the difference in the number of baskets scored by Tony and her, which in the end stood at three points, raising additional donations for the cause. In addition, Robby Reid (NA) gave an impressive show to take the title of the three-point champ, scoring 12 of 15 shots in a one-minute period. He left the audience with a taste of what professional basketball looks like.

The second half set off in right earnest, with both sides looking to grab each other’s territory. The ECs showed good tenacity in the face of an attacking RC side, which was unfortunately depleted twice due to on-court injuries. The battle continued in earnest, as the scorers were kept busy, as the game advanced to 28-32, and then 36-41, supported by some great rebounding courtesy of Duggan “Wings” Jensen (OJ). With a little less than five minutes on the board, the score closed to 49-51. The EC’s opened it up a bit, but just as the ECs seemed set to romp home, two successive three pointers by the RCs brought the score to 57-62 with just 52 seconds remaining on the clock. A tense silence descended on the audience as the ECs dug into their last reserves of strength to finish off the game strong at 59-67. The RCs’ swan song was not to be. However, both sides as well the participating students from Columbia, Stern, Tuck, Wharton, and Yale left with their heads held high, knowing that they had played a part in a great cause.

More information about ALS and prize4life can be found at www.prize4life.org

Credits: Facts about ALS from www.prize4life.org

December 11, 2006
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