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Wisconsin draws strength from team manager who’s beaten cancer

Aug 4, 2013, 8:11 PM EST

Wisconsin Badgers head coach Ryan watches as his team scores a three-point basket during the second half of their NCAA men's college basketball game against the Michigan Wolverines in Chicago, Illinois Reuters

While the average college basketball fan doesn’t tend to pay a great deal of attention to team managers, the fact of the matter is that those students play an integral role in the success of a program.

More than simply the undergrad who hands out towels and sports drinks to fatigued players, student managers have a number of responsibilities that if left unattended to can grow into bigger issues down the line.

Star player looking to snap out a shooting slump? Chances are there’s a manager chasing down the player’s shots during late-night shooting sessions.

And managers can even serve as a source of inspiration for a program, as is the case for Wisconsin student manager Matt Meinholz. Meinholz is a cancer survivor, and upon hearing the young man tell his story at the Coaches vs. Cancer Wisconsin Gala in the spring of 2012 Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan pledged to help Meinholz accomplish his goal of being a manager for the Badger program.

By that point, Meinholz was doing much better and mentioned he’d like to be a manager for the Badgers. Ryan’s response: “Get through this, and if you want to be a part of this, I’ll make it happen.”

Meinholz attended UW-La Crosse as a freshman but applied for a transfer to UW. His application included a letter of recommendation from Ryan.

“He’s the most genuine person I’ve ever met,” Marv Meinholz said of Ryan, who was as happy as anyone to receive the news in late spring that Matt had been accepted at UW. “The way he’s embraced Matt, I’m just in awe.”

According to Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal there are still some health issues related to the cancer that Meinholz must navigate, with the chemotherapy sessions causing nerve damage that has affected his stamina and strength, but that hasn’t sapped his enthusiasm for the job in any way.

And with cancer beaten, Meinholz has embraced the fact that he can be an inspiration to others who are looking to defeat the disease.

“My personal battle may be over, but I just want to keep fighting and helping other people get through theirs because I definitely had a lot of support through mine,” he said.

“One of the things that makes me the most proud about coming back to manage is being able to have kids know about this happening and just know that I went to college after cancer. When kids have cancer, I don’t want them to feel like the rest of their life has to change. You can still go out and do what you want to do. Don’t let cancer hold you back from anything. You can go achieve whatever you want to achieve. I want other kids who have cancer to go out and fulfill their dreams.”