On a Saturday afternoon in the suburbs outside Philadelphia, two competitors meet on the mat. At the slap of a hand the first grips will be made. This is competition day where all the hours in the academy will be tested. Two people will struggle for victory but in this struggle the ultimate victor will not be themselves. Because today these competitors compete for something bigger than medals, they compete in the service of others.
This the Tap Cancer Out Open.
Tap Cancer Out (TCO) is the brain child of BJJ Brown Belt Jon Thomas. In 2010 Jon was invited by a high school friend to attend the Classy Awards. The Classy Awards are given out to innovative charitable organizations by classy.org, a website dedicated to raising funds for these organizations. Jon was in the audience when recipient after recipient received awards for their life changing work. While watching this Jon was struck with the positive mark these recipients were leaving on their fellow man. Jon said “it was as if a mirror had appeared in front of my seat and I was looking directly back at me. Asking myself what was I doing?”
After the event Jon sat down and determined not to leave his seat until he had an idea how he could create change. While sitting he was struck by the toll that cancer had taken in his life. Jon had previously lost a close friend and his nephew to cancer. His friend John had passed at the age of 30 years old and his nephew Michael at only 9 months old. During this time Jon had been training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for two years and loved the martial art. He decided to find a way to mobilize the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community in the fight against cancer and Tap Cancer Out was born.
At first this charitable organization had trouble gaining sustained traction in the BJJ community. One day a conversation after training would change that. Jon’s Jiu-Jitsu instructor Luigi Mondelli suggested to him to run his own tournament. Despite not knowing if this venture would succeed he ran with it anyways. Quickly it was realized that this was the future of Tap Cancer Out. The organizations first tournament raised over $17,000.00 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Tap Cancer Out has since held 12 tournaments. The fundraising amounts have grown considerably from the first tournament. In October they held their first tournament in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This tournament had over 390 competitors, including 9 black belts, and raised over $62,000.00.
To date the organization has raised over $500,000 for various cancer societies.
One of Jon’s most ingenious ideas was to allow competitors to individually fundraise for the tournament. Competitors are charged a very reasonable entrance fee to compete but are encouraged to fund raise on their own. As a person fundraises they hit benchmarks which earn them free entry, gear, and recognition. With the help of Nelson Puentes from Inverted Gear, Jon makes sure to recognize the top fundraisers at each tournament with a plaque and prizes. Also recognized is the largest fundraising school or team. So far Tap Cancer Out’s largest individual fundraiser has been Robert Wong from Team Stronghold, who raised $7,802.00 at the 2016 Tap Cancer Out Open in San Diego, California. The largest any team as raised has been Abusado Team, with $16,086.00 at the 2014 Tap Cancer Out Open in Connecticut. TCO also gives out a special award, the Michael Corb Top Children’s Fundraising Award for children that participate in the fundraising activities. To date the most successful child fundraiser has been Alyson Alberino, from Soulcraft BJJ, with $4,057.00 at the 2016 Tap Cancer Out Open in Connecticut.
The initial fundraising arm of Tap Cancer Out wasn’t tournaments but the sale of merchandise. At first Jon tried to sell TCO t-shirts at a local MMA event, which proved to be a failure. After this initial roadblock, TCO then began to target the BJJ audience through online sales and found more success. Today TCO merchandise which includes BJJ gi’s, t-shirts, patches, and more is sold at the tournaments as well as online. TCO has teamed up with Inverted Gear to provide sharp looking, high quality gear, with select items given away to the largest individual fundraisers.
One of the factors leading to the success of the Tap Cancer Out Open Tournaments is the high quality of the event itself. Many hours of meticulous planning are put in to each tournament by Jon and his team. The matches are officiated by referees in a professional manner and the event runs on schedule. Even with many people on the staff volunteering their time, the tournaments run at a level of professionalism one might find lacking in many for profit tournaments.
When someone competes at a TCO Open tournament they notice a different feel to the competition. The competitors fight hard but recognize that the real winners are the organizations who the money is being raised for. Few and far between is the arguing with referees and coaches that can sometimes be witnessed at other tournaments. Jon Thomas begins each tournament with a quick rules meeting and the story of how Tap Cancer Out came to be. He tells this emotional tale and sets the vibe for the competition.
What is the future for Tap Cancer Out?
In the immediate future Tap Cancer Out will be holding its 13th tournament in 2017. This tournament will be held on January 21st in San Diego, California and will b the organizations 3rd west coast event. For this tournament TCO has set the goal of raising $85,000.00 in support of the Pancreatic Cancer Network. Beyond this tournament TCO plans on holding multiple other tournaments in 2017 with possible expansions to other cities.
The foundation of the Jiu-Jitsu life style is built on camaraderie, great rolls, and helping others. No tournament expresses those pillars more than a Tap Cancer Out Open. Competing at one of these tournaments is a fun and rewarding experience win or lose. Competition at the Mundials is for a small portion of us Jiu-Jitsu practitioners but a TCO Open is for anyone.