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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
Owen Graham, 45, has been an influential youth coach and player in the San Francisco Bay area cricket community for nearly 20 years. His resume includes being a championship winning captain for the San Francisco Freedom in the lone season of the US Twenty20 league known as Pro Cricket, being one of the founding coaches at the California Cricket Academy, coaching in the NCCA junior development program and most recently working as the head coach for the East Bay Youth Cricket Association.
So when he was recently diagnosed with cancer, the west coast cricket community didn’t hesitate to rally around the well-liked personality known simply as “O.G.”
Image (right) - Owen Graham
“His spirit is definitely high,” said EYCA president Gopal Samant, regarding Graham’s attitude since being diagnosed with multiple myeloma. “He’s appreciative of the fact that the community has got together and put aside the political differences of all the leagues and a lot of people are offering a lot of love and care.”
A social media campaign was started a few weeks ago by the tech savvy cricketers in the Silicon Valley to help raise funds for O.G.'s cancer treatment and immediately word spread north to Seattle and south to Los Angeles. In less than 48 hours, the Northwest Cricket League raised $2500 and mailed a check to Samant, who is one of the community leaders organizing the efforts to raise money for Graham. One of the others leading the charge is Ganesh Sanap, former president of the NCCA and a close friend of Graham’s, who says that the reaction by the community is just an indication of the “legend” that is O.G.
“People take to him very quickly,” said Sanap. “There’s very few Jamaicans here in the Bay Area. Everyone else here is Indian or Pakistani. That Jamaican accent, people get attracted to him, his coaching techniques, his depth of cricket knowledge.”
According to Sanap, Graham had been experiencing back pain for a short while and when he went to see a doctor, he was told he had a tumor. Despite losing some weight, his appetite and some of his physical strength, Graham has stayed positive in the face of his diagnosis. Samant says that Graham will have at the very least six months but probably closer to a year’s worth of treatment beginning with surgery and continuing with chemotherapy.
“He’ll have to go through surgery,” said Samant. “There is a tumor on his spine so they have to take it out through surgery because it’s causing numbness in his body and in his legs. After that he’ll have to go through chemo so he’ll be out of action for six to nine months for sure.”
Samant says that the EYCA has agreed to continue paying Graham’s coaching fee while he is going through treatment so that he’ll be able to meet his normal living costs including rent. He says it’s the least that EYCA can do for someone who has contributed so much not just to getting EYCA started, but to all of the youth cricketers in the Bay Area.
“I have not found another person as passionate as him who had the reason to take the game to the right place,” said Samant. “OG obviously has been a pillar of putting together the structure, the curriculum, what needs to be done and what doesn’t need to be done. His importance to EYCA goes without saying. He’s been the primary pillar who helped us define how a club needs to run and what kind of infrastructure we need.”
However, his medical bills are projected to reach six figures and Graham does not have health insurance. As a result, the NCCA and BACA leagues in addition to the EYCA are collecting money to help alleviate the financial burden on Graham. The single dad has a 15-year-old daughter who lives with him. He also has a 5-year-old son who was living with Graham before the diagnosis but has gone back to live with the boy’s mother while Graham receives treatment.
“I don’t know how much people can help him but whatever they can that is what we are appealing,” said Samant. For more information on ways to donate funds for O.G.’s treatment, please contact Gopal Samant at email@example.com.