A Win-Win: Widener Football Holds Campus Bone Marrow Registry Drive

Hilary Bentman, Assistant Director of Communications
Student drops a bone marrow registry envelope into a blue bucket

As Widener’s head football coach, Mike Barainyak is super competitive and fights for every Pride win. 

Ultimately, however, he doesn’t want to be defined by what happens on the field on Saturdays. He wants to be judged by the life he lives every day, and his impact on others.

It’s a philosophy Barainyak shares with his players and inspires them to embrace, as well. 

“The foundation of our football program here at Widener, and what we’ve built, it extends beyond the playing field to the things we do as human beings,” said Barainyak. “It’s greater than any victory on a scoreboard. It’s what education is about. You are here to better yourself and help someone else.”

With this approach front of mind, Pride football hosted a bone marrow registry drive on campus on April 5, in which members of the Widener community swabbed their cheeks with a do-it-yourself kit to provide samples for the national Be the Match registry.

Two students hold bone marrow swab sticks, with a blue bucket in the foreground

The event is part of the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation’s “Get in the Game. Save a Life,” which recruits football programs from across the country to register young bone marrow donors to increase the chances of patients finding a potentially lifesaving match.

Bone marrow and stem cell transplants are used in treating blood cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma, as well as sickle cell and other diseases.

“There are people that need bone marrow. Doing this type of thing helps me feel like I’m helping to save someone’s life,” said Shawn Thompson ’23, a sport and event management major and running back for the Pride. “It’s a good thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.”

Raising awareness about the need for donors is key to the program, especially donors from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Ethic makeup is an important factor in marrow matching, but Black people and other minority groups are underrepresented on the registry.

“It’s critical for a university like ours that does such a wonderful job with diversity and inclusion to get all kinds of people involved,” said Barainyak.

Barainyak first got involved in Get in the Game in 2012 when he coached under Talley at nearby Villanova University. The program has been running at Widener since 2019, but was on hiatus during the height of the pandemic. 

The Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation has recruited 160 college football teams for the effort, which has resulted in 119,000 donors to date, and 810 transplants.

Prior to the April event, Widener has contributed 239 donors to the registry and one transplant. 

Pride football partnered this year with the Widener Athletic Leadership Initiative (WALI), which was founded on the principle that collegiate athletics is a breeding ground for aspiring leaders. 

The registry event is a prime example of the type of servant leadership that Widener promotes, said Barainyak.

“It parallels with what we’re teaching here at Widener,” he said. “You come here and learn in a hands-on way and you take what you learn in the classroom, on co-op, through a sports team and club, or from each other in the residence halls, and you go out an impact your community.”

Ciana Bowers ’23, a creative writing and communication studies major, contributed to this story.

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