"Chillin 4 Charity" sweeps through the women's basketball world

June 23, 2014 - 10:54am

University of Arizona head coach Niya Butts issues the original "Chillin4Charity" challenge, calling out fellow Pac12 coaches, in a "chilling" fundraising effort on behalf of the Kay Yow Foundation. Butts' assistant coaches and student-athletes joined in, with challenges of their own, and the challenges have since gone viral. (Video courtesy University of Arizona Athletics)

Like many great ideas, it began simply, and with little expectation.

University of Arizona assistant coach Calamity McEntire gave her boss, head coach Niya Butts, a fundraising idea: Have staffers douse her with cold water and challenge other coaches to do the same, as a way to raise funds for breast cancer prevention research. Those challenged would have 48 hours to respond. For each coach who answered the challenge, the challenging coach would pay the Kay Yow Foundation $50. Coaches not answering the call were challenged to fork over $250 to the organization.

"I knew it would be funny, but I didn't know if people would really just do it," Butts said. "I thought maybe a couple of people would take the challenge."

Butts and two of her players decided to expand the challenge to include athletes and assistant coaches. The donation amounts for coaching assistants were slightly reduced from the head coach levels; for assistant coaches, anyone who doesn't answer the challenge "owes" the Kay Yow Foundation $100, while for assistant coach who rises to meet the challenge, the challenging coach owes $25 to the Foundation. Student-athletes participating in the challenge substituted community service hours for financial donations, with players donating two hours of community service for each video posted evidencing compliance with the challenge, while those welching were urged to commit five community service hours in lieu of taking the plunge.

The Wildcats debuted their "cold water challenge" video last Monday, and the response was beyond their wildest dreams. The Pac12 coaches and players called out in Butts' original challenge quickly responded, answering in kind and extending the challenge still further.

USC women's coach and former WNBA star Cynthia Cooper takes up the challenge in honor of her former Olympic team coach, Kay Yow, and passes it on to Baylor's Kim Mulkey, Washington State's June Daugherty and NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant. (Video courtesy Pac12.com)

Within two days, videos were being posted from colleges across the country, with coaches and players calling out their friends before a vat of icy water was poured over their heads.

Tennessee assistant coach Dean Lockwood, called out by Brian Holsinger, associate head coach at Washington State, answers the challenge by upping the ante, subjecting himself to three consecutive ice-water-bucket dousings and then fully immersing himself in an ice bath, before passing on the challenge to other coaches in the SEC and Big Ten. (Photo courtesy Tennessee Athletics)

"It's been incredible, to say the least," Butt said. "Just in the first five days, we've had 199 coaches called out and participating in the cold water challenge."

The number of athletes and assistant coaches was climbing too, with some schools making repeat performances as more players were called out by their friends on other teams. By the end of the week WNBA players, coaches, staffers and media members were involved, with Indiana Fever coach Lin Dunn and Storm veteran point guard Sue Bird each taking a cold bath, just to name a few.

TCU head coach Raegan Pebley and her Horned Frogs accept the challenge issued by Colorado's Linda Laffe, in turn spreading the challenge to the Big 12 and to the WNBA via Indiana Fever head coach Lin Dunn. (Video courtesy TCU Athletics)

Butts got the community service bug from her mother as a young person, and it was reinforced by coach Pat Summitt when she played at Tennessee. Breast cancer research was appealing because it effects so many, including another former Lady Vol, Nikki McCray -- a friend of Butts -- who has been battling the disease since last year.

"Every college team does a pink game," Butt said. "This is a cause everyone can get behind."

Butts said she was looking for a way to have fun and raise money. The cold water challenge proved to be the perfect solution, as response videos continued to get more creative as the week went on. Cal coach Lindsey Gottlieb and her players brought Olympic gold medalist swimmer Missy Franklin, who attends the University, into their video for a cameo appearance. Tennessee assistant coach Dean Lockwood pointedly confronted his challenger, Washington State assistant Brian Holsinger, in his video before taking four cold-water douses.

Coach Lindsay Gottlieb, one of several Pac12 coaches called out by Butts, accepts the challenge along with five Bears players and coaching staff members, and tapping Virginia's Joanne Boyle, Stanford's Tara VanDerveer and UConn's Geno Auriemma, "the guy with the best hair in women's college basketball." (Video courtesy Cal Basketball)

The movement has even spread to the men's game, with, for example, Washington State men's head basketball coach Ernie Kent engaging his summer campers to splash him with 100 paper cups of cold water.

"It's the prefect set up, because college coaches are very competitive, and no one wants to be outdone," Butts said.

Butts said the challenge has served to reinforce the cameraderie that already exists in women's basketball.

"Some coaches may not necessarily talk to each other all the time, because we get busy," she said. "But now we know each other - we have something in common."

Wildcat forward Dejza James, who was in the original challenge video with her coach, said the movement has united families, too.

"My dad calls me after every video they see from another school," James said. "He's been calling a lot."

Arizona is posting every video they receive that is sent to: chillin4charity@gmail.com. Videos can be tweeted using the hashtag: #Chillin4Charity.