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August 22, 2014

Kidz1stFund gets boost from other college coaches

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Everyone sees FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher and other college coaches pitted against each other on the field on Saturdays. But when game day is done, they're also more than willing to help one another out.

Alabama's Nick Saban, Clemson's Dabo Swinney, Pittsburgh's Paul Chryst and former Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe have all made significant donations in multiple years to Kidz1stFund, which was created in 2011 by Jimbo and Candi Fisher to support families affected by Fanconi anemia.

The Fishers launched the project after their youngest son, Ethan, was diagnosed with the disease. Kidz1stFund works to build awareness of the disease, provide support for affected families and raise funds for research. FA is a rare disease with many with many effects that often lead to bone marrow failure.

According to Fisher, those rival coaches didn't discuss it among themselves or coordinate their gifts, but each chose to give of their own accord.

"They all did that on their own," Fisher said. "Jim Grobe was great, Dabo Swinney, Coach Saban, Paul Chryst, all those guys. No, we never talked about it or brought it up. They were just tremendous people, and it's an unbelievable act of kindness that Candi and I really appreciate."

Because Fanconi anemia is such a rare condition, some coaches weren't even aware of the disease until recently. Grobe said he first heard of it when former FSU athletic director Randy Spetman mentioned Ethan's condition at an ACC meeting.

Later, Grobe met Ethan on the field before a game against Florida State. After meeting him in person, Grobe and his wife, Holly, decided they should support Kidz1stFund.

"I look at our players as being kids," Grobe said in a phone interview. "When you see a real young one like Ethan going through tough times, it really tugs at your heart."

Some coaches have made additional efforts to help Kidz1stFund. Chryst suggested both Florida State and Pitt wear FA helmet decals before the 2013 season opener. The decals are expected to be worn in a game or two during the 2014 campaign as well.

"He brought that idea to me," Fisher said. "If you get to know Paul, you talk about a great human being. Me and Paul have known each other for a long time. It was an unbelievable, kind gesture. Just the class and what he represents."

FSU won that game 41-13, but Chryst remains a big supporter of the cause. The coaches say that shows they can battle in games, but still have a strong relationship with their colleagues off the field.

"It's really a great feeling of respect," Grobe said. "We all care about each other, especially when family is going through something difficult. It doesn't mean you don't want to beat each others' butts on Saturday, but before and after the game, there's always a great level of respect."

The off-field relationship between coaches isn't one that's often seen, but it's an important bond within the profession. With such busy schedules, Fisher said, coaches fight for time with their families. When one family is facing a challenge, other coaches are more than willing to help.

"This is obviously something that has directly affected their family as well as many others and we are happy to do our part to help in the battle against and, hopefully, finding a cure for FA," Saban said at a fundraiser in 2013.

Even Swinney, coaching one of Florida State's biggest in-conference rivals, has been a regular supporter of Kidz1stFund.

"We give to that cause every year," Swinney said. "I have known Jimbo a long time and have great respect for him. This cause hits home to me because I am the father of three boys. I am always glad to help this cause."

Kidz1stFund has donated $2.16 million to the University of Minnesota for Fanconi anemia research since 2011, raising at least $500,000 each year. It's become an important part of the Fishers' lives, and the other coaches have been happy to help.

"That's really why we get into coaching," Grobe said. "We care about kids."

Locally, former FSU coach Bobby Bowden helped out this past week by participating in a question-and-answer session with fans on the social media site Reddit. The goal of that chat was to raise awareness for the fund.

And on campus Friday morning, FSU's athletics department staff, student-athletes, coaches and spirit groups gathered to register for a bone marrow donor drive. Check back with Warchant.com for coverage of that event.

For more on Kidz1stFund and Fanconi anemia go to Kidz1stFund.com or on Twitter @Kidz1stFund

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