Washington State Beats University of Washington in ALS Fundraising Challenge for Team Gleason

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by Mary Chapman |

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When intrastate rivals University of Washington (UW) and Washington State University (WSU) met Nov. 29 for the storied Boeing Apple Cup Series, the battle wasn’t just about football — it was also about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The teams’ fan bases were vying to see which one could raise the most money for Team Gleason, an ALS advocacy organization founded by WSU alumni and former New Orleans Saints football player Steve Gleason.

As it turned out, WSU bested UW in the fundraising contest — which was close most of the way — with a total $10,616 to $7,220. The UW Huskies got revenge on the gridiron, though, trouncing the Cougars 31-13.

The fundraising competition began Aug. 31 and culminated Nov. 29, at halftime, when the final totals were checked and WSU was declared the winner. During the donation period, many fans added comments on the online fundraising site about someone they know or knew with ALS.

The campaign was born when UW alum and collegiate football champion Phil Green, who was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease in 2018, issued a friendly challenge to Gleason. In the press release announcing the fundraiser, Green called Gleason one of his heroes. “It will be fun to win, but the importance is in how much we can raise to help all those Team Gleason supports. Go Huskies!”

Team Gleason to date has invested nearly $10 million in travel adventures, assistive technology, equipment, and care services for more than 15,000 people living with ALS and similar disorders. The organization’s overarching goal is to defeat the progressive neurodegenerative disease.

Green was a member of two UW Rose Bowl football teams, one of which won the 1991 national championship. In 2014, he joined scores of others in participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. At the time, he knew hardly anything about ALS. That changed dramatically last year when the husband and father of four learned he had the disease. Since his diagnosis, Green has been involved with organizations such as I AM ALS and ALS Therapy Development Institute, in addition to Team Gleason.

Diagnosed with ALS in 2011, Gleason was a safety for the New Orleans Saints from 2000 to 2008. His most famous play was a 2006 punt block in the Saints’ first home game after Hurricane Katrina.  His documentary “Gleason,” a film about the former WSU linebacker’s journey, was released in 2016. Two years later, the Steve Gleason Enduring Voices Act became law, ensuring those with degenerative diseases access to assistive communication devices.

“I’ve lived purposefully and productively with ALS for almost nine years,” Gleason said in announcing the ALS Apple Cup Challenge between the two schools. “These years have included some extreme challenges. I’ve only been able to triumphantly overcome these challenges because of help from an amazing support team. Tens of thousands of other people face the extreme life and death challenges. Those people need your support.”