Staff Photo: John Bohn Connie Schneider, 13, right, an 8th-grade student at Providence Christian Academy, slams a whip cream pie into the face of Scott Piehler, the high school drama director at Providence during the ninth annual Carter Martin Classic is held at Providence Christian Academy on Friday. The event raises money to fund an experimental cancer treatment in honor of former Providence Christian Academy student Carter Martin.
LILBURN -- The man who received the loudest ovation in the gym at Providence Christian Academy held a microphone and wore a tie with images of children's handprints.
Dr. Howard Katzenstein gave the audience an update on the fight against childhood cancer. The PCA community, and the Carter Martin Classic, which held its ninth annual and final event on Friday night, have given a significant lift to cancer-fighting efforts at the Aflac Cancer Center and the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
In this year's event, the community raised $155,946, which took the overall total to $865,946 for the duration of the event, with $3,000 to $4,000 more expected from concession proceeds.
"There is a special part of Carter in my heart," said Katzenstein, who was a doctor for the event's namesake, who battled Ewing's sarcoma. "And there is a special place for PCA. As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the most special places on the face of the Earth."
Before Katzenstein spoke, Martin's older brother, Candler, a senior, thanked the Providence family for the ongoing support so no child, or sibling, has to go through what he did with his brother.
"I'm so blessed to have so many people by my side," Candler said.
One hundred percent of the money raised at the event goes to an innovative therapy research endowment named for the inspiring student at the Lilburn private school.
The event included a carnival, basketball games, T-shirt sales and a silent auction. Quilts with T-shirts from each year's event were presented to Carter Martin's family, and school and hospital representatives.
Leigh Ann Herrin, Carter's mother, said Friday was bittersweet because it's the last event and her older son will soon graduate from a school that supported the family so much.
"This year is probably the biggest and best yet," she said. "It's humbling that people open up their wallets and give to a cause that's named after my child. It touches a heart. This is home, this is family."
Carter Martin 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.
After it went into remission, the cancer returned more intense than before and there were no more treatments scheduled. Carter died in September 2004, just after starting second grade.
Three months later, Providence held the first Carter Martin Classic and raised more than $40,000.
Supporters of the Classic like Craig Carter, a former committee chair whose wife taught Carter in kindergarten, said the event has become one of the community's biggest events each year.
"When it first started, it was primarily the elementary school," Craig Carter said. "Anytime you put a face with a cause, it's a whole lot easier to raise money."
Each year, basketball players and cheerleaders from Providence visit the Aflac Cancer Center in what Craig Carter called an eye-opening and sobering experience.
"We think it's important for kids to have something to champion," he said.
A member of the current committee, Carol Garner, coordinated sponsorships and silent auction gifts and prizes. Garner said she remembers what it meant to Carter Martin before he died to give money so kids wouldn't have to suffer the same way he did.
"When you hear that from a 7-year-old, you're like, 'Wow,'" she said. "I just felt like this should be a no-brainer. It should be so easy to go solicit for ads in the program, and things like that."
Garner called it the event of the basketball season, and was one of many to thank Hebron Christian Academy for helping the cause.
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, but attended Friday's event. The boys went through the same treatments with the same drugs.
Tom Glavine said childhood cancers don't receive the funding that other cancers, and each dollar could be a difference to help a doctor or researcher.
"Every little bit helps, particularly from a monetary standpoint with how little is being done," said Glavine, who signed autographs and posed for pictures at the event. "It's unfortunate that childhood cancers don't get the attention that some other cancers do, because the numbers aren't as high in the grand scheme of things. It makes it no less a worthy cause. Anything we can do to make sure it's no longer here, or find a 100 percent cure rate, it's worth whatever we can do."
Katzenstein said money raised from this event has already helped 20 children fight cancer, and it created a clinical trial he named "Martin 1" after the event's namesake.
Katzenstein said in the last nine years, the Aflac Cancer Center has cured 80 percent of the 3,000 children it treated for cancer. But despite applause from the crowd, he said that wasn't good enough.
One child, who had a brain tumor, was treated on the "Martin 1" clinical trial and the tumor decreased by 80 percent in size.
While the annual event is ending, contributions to the Cartin Martin Endowment continue.
"We have to keep going," Katzenstein said.