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Providence's Carter Martin Classic has had major impact on cancer research

What started as a step in the healing process is now on its way to contributing $1 million for research into childhood cancer.

Over the last eight years, the Carter Martin Classic at Providence Christian has raised more than $710,000 for the innovative therapy research endowment named for the inspiring student at the Lilburn private school.

Two coaches, Dan Davis and Dan Knudsen, spearheaded the initial effort and the Providence community has been behind it ever since.

"We had so much support from our school," Carter's mom, Leigh Ann Herrin said. "People wanted a way to help. They feel helpless at a time like that. For us, it was a comfort."

This year, it's last year, organizers are aiming for a record donation.

"That's our goal," the organizing committee chair Tom Skinner said. "We just need the support of the community. We want to pack the gym. We need as many people as can to come out, enjoy a great night of basketball, sign up to receive prizes and have fun. And it's all for a good cause."

Carter Martin, who his mom called "a sports nut," was a kindergartner at Providence when his leg wouldn't heal from a soccer injury. He was eventually diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. What followed were a dozen rounds of chemotherapy over the next year and the amputation of the lower half of one of Carter's legs.

Briefly, a fleeting few weeks, the cancer was in remission.

It returned, more virulently than before, and there were no more treatments scheduled. The Martin family was told to focus on quality of life, not quantity.

Carter died in September 2004, just after starting second grade.

Three months later, Providence held the first Carter Martin Classic and raised over $40,000.

Herrin said even after that, she never thought they'd be closing in on $1 million in donations. Providence is the foundation's single biggest contributor, but other events, some headlined by Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson, have pushed the total to nearly $4 million.

"And just in nine years," Herrin said. "It's pretty incredible. It's pretty humbling for us."

This year is the final one for the Carter Martin Classic. It starts at 3:15 p.m. Friday with a basketball game between the faculty and the girls JV team.

"We have special referees -- to help the faculty keep the game close," Skinner said with a laugh.

A new addition to the event, Carter's Carnival, starts at 4 p.m. on the green in front of the elementary school. There will be inflatable jumpies, face painting and a pie-in-the-face booth. The student-led Axis Band will also be playing.

Future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine will be signing autographs from 4-6 p.m.

Tom and Christine Glavine are involved in other efforts to defeat childhood cancers, but also have a personal connection to Carter and this type of cancer. A family friend was diagnosed with the same rare disease on the same day as Carter. The boys went through the same treatments with the same drugs.

"Will (the other boy diagnosed) is a survivor," Herrin said. "Chris saw Will's mom and myself and two different results."

The rest of the event features a girls varsity game against Hebron Christian at 6 p.m., a presentation to Aflac for the Carter Martin Innovative Therapy Research Endowment and, finally, the boys varsity game.

The organizers are planning to make the last year the best year.

"The Martins' older son Candler is graduating from Providence and it seemed like a natural time to conclude the event," Skinner said. "When the Martin family came to us and said that they wanted this to be the last Carter Martin Classic, we saw we were at $710,000 and the organizing committee decided to set a goal of trying to meet $1 million.

"We really want to impress on people to come out to the event, but also that they can go online and donate."

Even with such a large target goal, Skinner was emphatic about no donation being too small.

"Every single penny makes a difference," Skinner said.

Carter knew that. He was really the first to donate money to the cause when he was sick.

"He said 'Break my piggy bank and give all my money to the Aflac Cancer Center so no other kid will have to suffer like me,'" Herrin said. "And it really was all pennies and dimes."

This time of year brings mixed feelings for Carter's family. September is obviously difficult. Carter's birthday was in November and the Classic comes in December.

"Knowing this is the last one is bittersweet," Herrin said. "To know so much has been done is affirming. There's so much awareness -- and that's where the lack has been. And our Providence family has meant the world to us."

And, Herrin said, even though there won't be a Carter Martin Classic next year, the endowment will go on with the hope that no other parents have to hear the words, "It's cancer."

"We watched so many kids suffer," Herrin said. "To think something we've been a part of, in Carter's name, has helped and to see the benefits of that, is incredible."CARTER MARTIN CLASSIC

What: Event to raise money for childhood cancer research, named for an inspiring student at Providence Christian

Where: Providence Christian Academy, Lilbun

When: Friday

Schedule:

3:15 p.m. -- JV girls vs. faculty

4 p.m. -- Carnival on the Green (ends at 6 p.m.)

4 p.m. -- Tom Glavine autographs (ends at 6 p.m.)

5 p.m. -- JV boys game

6:30 p.m. -- Varsity girls game (cheer clinic at halftime)

7:30 p.m. -- Aflac presentation

8:00 p.m. -- Varsity boys game

To donate: Follow the links online at choa.org/cartermartin or cartermartinclassic.org. Donation may be mailed to Aflac Cancer Center, 1687 Tullie Circle NE, Atlanta, GA 30329-2320. Make checks payable to Aflac Cancer Center and note Carter Martin Endowment in the memo line.