Keeping Student Athletes Sun-Safe On and Off the Field

Photo of a shade structure for a school athletic field. Signs on the structure say Be Sun Smart, East Meadow Association Pony Field, and Stop Melanoma Skin Cancer.

A shade structure for a school athletic field. Photo courtesy of the Colette Coyne Melanoma Awareness Campaign.

The Colette Coyne Melanoma Awareness Campaign (CCMAC) was launched in 1998 in response to the death of Colette Marie Brigid Coyne at 30 years of age from metastatic melanoma. Colette’s family and friends were inspired to raise awareness in their Long Island communities about the dangers and causes of skin cancer. Colette’s mother said, “We believe she guides us. Her death has saved lives.”

CCMAC began its work by reaching out to administrators at local schools to identify opportunities to educate the students and increase the availability of shade in outdoor recreational spaces and sports fields. Sun-safe habits develop at an early age, and schools can have a powerful influence on youth. This outreach led to the installation of 14 shade structures to create dugouts for baseball fields in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Recently, CCMAC partnered with Carle Place High School and Oyster Bay High School to provide both permanent and portable shade structures for the schools’ athletic fields. The hope is that visiting sports teams from other schools will see the shade structures and think, “Why can’t we have those at our school?” The shade structures often have banners across them that read, “Be Sun Smart®” to ensure the young athletes see the sun-safe message every time they play. Some of the shade structures are on wheels, which allows for easy relocation as needed for various sporting events and activities.

In addition to providing shade, CCMAC provides sun-safety education to the high school students. CCMAC encourages students to take the message home, thus educating family and friends. One mom called to express thanks after her son encouraged her to see a dermatologist. During her visit, she was diagnosed with an early-stage melanoma. CCMAC staff have been impressed by the enthusiasm of the high school students and their willingness to be involved in community activities to promote skin cancer awareness. Much of the financial support for the shade structures and other work done by CCMAC comes from the various CCMAC community events, such as the Miles for Melanoma, Steps to Stop Skin Cancer 5K.