Eason Invitational will raise money to fight cancer

For the 26th incarnation of the Eason Track and Field Invitational, Tuck Gionet wanted to do something special.

So Snohomish High School’s track and field coach decided to turn the annual event into a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society. Gionet, who’s battling esophageal cancer, said he hopes to raise $10,000 at Saturday’s invite, which has been dubbed “A Meet for the Cure.”

“I was diagnosed with cancer last November,” Gionet said. “I went through a bunch of radiation chemotherapy treatments and it came back. (The idea for the fund-raiser) sprung from the fact that cancer kind of hit home for our team. Us coaches had wanted to do something for a while and we thought, ‘Here we go. We can do something at the Eason.’

“Basketball coaches do Coaches vs. Cancer, so we wanted to do A Meet for the Cure.”

The Eason Invite, held annually at Snohomish High School, is one of the largest high school track and field meets in the state. It draws about 1,100 competitors from Washington and Canada. Gionet challenged each student participating this year to secure $20 in donations. He’s also received contributions from local businesses, and will have volunteers collecting donations on Saturday.

“We hope the big bulk of the money comes from the teams that are coming,” Gionet said. “With over 1,000 athletes coming to the meet, if half of the athletes do that, there’s our $10,000.”

The $10,000 was an arbitrary amount Gionet set, thinking it was an attainable goal and enough money to make a difference.

“It sounded like a good number,” he said. “Ten-thousand dollars is a good chunk of change to make in a day.”

The idea was brought up one day when Gionet was discussing teaching plans with his substitute, Caryl Dreher. Dreher, whose daughter Alexandra graduated last year after spending four years on the track and field team with Gionet, loved the plan.

Like many in the Snohomish community, she is a huge fan of Gionet’s.

“I can’t say enough nice things about Tuck. He’s just an amazing individual,” Dreher said. “He started the Eason like 25 years ago. It’s cool this year they’ve taken on a neat little aspect to this. … It should be named the Eason-Gionet Invitational because he’s done so much for the program over the years.”

The Snohomish track and field members were more than happy to help Gionet try to reach his goal.

“He’s been a really big role model,” said senior Gabe Ohlsen, who competes in the pole vault and long jump. “He’s been walking the halls of Snohomish with such resolve. He’s teaching almost every day and hardly ever misses a practice. He’s fighting through it. He’s such a strong person. If you didn’t know what was going on, you’d never be able to tell.”

Added fellow senior Madison Lichter: “He just devotes everything he has for the team. He’s helped me grow as an athlete and an individual.”

The fund-raiser at the Eason Invitational is the latest in a series of money-raising efforts staged by Snohomish High School in recent months. In March, students cut and shaved their hair as they raised about $5,000. Gionet said the school hopes to do another haircutting event in May — likely after the school’s prom — and earn an additional $5,000.

He’s also talked to coaches of several other Panther teams about doing special events at their games.

“The Glacier Peak-Snohomish soccer game is going to have a cancer event to contribute, and the baseball team is trying to find an opportunity to get involved as well,” Gionet said. “The girls tennis team has talked about doing something to help before the end of their season, too.

“Through it all, it’s not inconceivable to think we could raise $20,000.”

Gionet has done his best to raise awareness of the fund-raising event but said come Saturday, his focus will be on coaching his students at the meet. Several volunteers, parents and Panther alumni will help with the fund-raising efforts.

The Eason Invitational officially gets underway Saturday at 10 a.m., although the hammer throw takes place at 5 p.m. today.

“The day of the meet I’ll probably be doing my normal hustle and bustle of trying to keep the meet on schedule,” Gionet said. “I’ll probably be more focused on the track stuff. We have a couple former parents and alumni that are going to take over the collection and stuff on the meet day. I told the coaches ‘I don’t want to add one more thing you have to do.’”

The added excitement adds to an already big day for the Panthers.

“Honestly, it’s the biggest meet of the year,” Ohlsen said. “Every year if I could choose between winning my events at the Eason or at state, it’s a toss-up. It’s so big.”

Gionet agreed the Eason is special, not just for the Panthers’ track and field teams, but for the entire Snohomish community.

“It’s not really just a Snohomish High School event. It’s a great community event,” Gionet said. “There’s no way we could pull it off without the support we get from the parents of our athletes, businesses, alumni from the program and the community members. Obviously we’re biased, but we think we’re the best large meet you can go to in the state of Washington.

“And it’s because of the community more than anything else.”

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