ST. MARYS — Former Ohio State forward J.J. Sullinger recently could be seen sporting a St. Marys Tailgate for Cancer t-shirt around Columbus, a place where for three generations his family has become a sort of First Family of basketball.
The connection the former Ohio State basketball player made with some Memorial High School grads on a Buckeye-themed cruise will bring Sullinger and some friends to St. Marys this summer.
J.J. Sullinger will headline the St. Marys Tailgate for Cancer-3-Point Club Basketball Camp on Thursday, July 18, which will be open to players from all around the area in grades 1-12.
Sullinger, his father Satch (an influential former head coach at Columbus Northland and the father of J.J., current Boston Celtic Jared and former Kent State Golden Flash Julian) along with former Buckeye post players Terence Dials and George Reese are scheduled to be at the camp. Sullinger also has said there could be some other special guests if schedules work out.
The camp will cost $60, with $30 benefitting the St. Marys Tailgate for Cancer organization and $30 going to the 3-Point Club, which helps fund the St. Marys basketball program. Campers will receive a t-shirt and a knapsack-style bag along with the camp instruction from Sullinger and company.
Grades 1-6 will go from 10 a.m. to Noon. Grades 7-12 will go from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 18. It is open to any area basketball player from any school.
St. Marys native Andy Sloan and St. Marys Tailgate for Cancer organizer Traci Lauth spoke to J.J. Sullinger on a Buckeye Cruise and helped pave the way for the camp.
Lauth said Sullinger has been excited to do the camp since it was first mentioned as an idea. Lauth said Sullinger is giving of his time.
“He told me that he got to play basketball at Ohio State and got a free education, so if people want an autograph or some time, he’s all about it,” Lauth said. “He really impressed us. I felt like I knew him forever after talking to him.”
St. Marys varsity basketball assistant coach Jason Clark said getting instruction from someone they’ve seen play on television is a big deal to young players.
“It’s that spark in their eye that they think, ‘Maybe I can get to that level,’” Clark said. “Kids watched him on TV, especially the older kids. It’s somebody who they see on basketball court, they’re going to have laser focus, whereas we’re their basketball coaches everyday and they may not listen.”
Clark said the hope is to have a coach, including Dan Hegemier, and St. Marys basketball players at each basket along with the Sullingers, Reece and Dials.
Sullinger wanted the camp to stay relatively small so each kids would feel like they got personal attention from a former Buckeye. Clark said they hope to have about 140 kids participate in the camp.
Anyone with questions can contact Jason Clark via email at JasonC@NewBremenMachine.com  for more information.
The event will raise money for the 3-Point Club and St. Marys Tailgate for Cancer.
With Memorial High School moving to a pay-to-play system for athletics, the money raised for the basketball program will be much-needed, Clark said. Even before pay-to-play, costs for the families of players for summer camps, practice jerseys and the like add up quickly.
“It’s been a struggle to even get practice jerseys,” Clark said. “So it will be nice to have something to fall back on if we need it.”
Half of the money will go to St. Marys Tailgate for Cancer, which has become a major area fundraiser for cancer research.
“Every year we are able to give back and we go to these events like the Buckeye Cruise and St. Marys is No. 2 out of everybody in Ohio at giving at the Tailgate events and people in Columbus just can’t believe it,” St. Marys Tailgate for Cancer founder Traci Lauth said. “That’s what amazes me, just how giving everybody is. Every year everybody gets so excited about it. For a one-time thing to turn into this, our thing was at first we wanted to to raise $1,000. Just over the last four years, we’ve donated over $240,000.”
This year’s St. Marys Tailgate for Cancer will be Sept. 13-14. Ohio State will play California that weekend.
Lauth talked about how one year the organization the Tailgate raised money for had just $32 in its checking account before the donation. It’s stories like that keep the St. Marys Tailgate for Cancer moving forward.
“I’m obsessed with it now,” Lauth said. “How can I ever say now, ‘I can’t do it anymore’?”
Last summer Archie Griffin appeared at an event at Buffalo Wild Wings in St. Marys that raised money for both Tailgate for Cancer and the Rider Rooters.
Sullinger began his college basketball career at Arkansas under Nolan Richardson before transferring to Columbus to play for the Buckeyes. Sullinger emerged as one of the nation’s best all-around players by his senior season. Sullinger played professionally overseas. He is now the lead real estate buyer for a company in Columbus.