British Columbia basketball will look different this February as over 600 referees across the province will brand pink whistles, lanyards, and jerseys as part of the Pink Whistle Campaign, spreading awareness for Cancer research.
Karn Dhillon, a longtime referee, began the campaign in 2010 after the diagnosis of his sister, nephew, and colleague in stripes.
“I had the idea that I had to do something because my sister was diagnosed with cancer, my nephew in Toronto had cancer, and one of our local referees here in Richmond had Cancer. I had these three big hits that took place within a couple of weeks and months, and you get shaken up,” said Dhillon.
Dhillon had the idea to use a pink whistle to spread awareness and raise funds for the BC Cancer Foundation.
“So, I asked permission to go out and buy a pink whistle and explain that what I want us to try to do is increase the awareness of cancer, and along the way, we could raise some funds for the BC Cancer Foundation,” said Dhillon.
To his delight, his supervisors obliged allowing the referee to spread awareness and begin his campaign.
The initial year of the campaign raised $2,000. As of today, the Pink Whistle Campaign has raised a total amount of over $170,000 for the BC Cancer Foundation.
What started with a simple gesture of support snowballed into a collection of referees, coaches and players doing their part to spread awareness.
Dhillon recalls his fondest memory of the campaign being the day he presented the idea to his sister.
“When I introduced this to my sister, she gave me a look that said, ‘you’re doing this for me?’ I said ‘yeah, I’m doing it for you, I’m doing it for my nephew, and I’m doing it for my referee buddy.’ … Unfortunately, we lost all three of them. But if I look into the sky and I toast to her, I know she is extremely proud of me,”
The memory of those people motivates Karn to march forward despite the hurdles in his way.
“I created a personal list of about 45 people who have lost their battle with cancer and people who are cancer survivors. Weekly, I am adding a new name, saying ‘Okay, if you get lazy, just open that list and you take a look, that’s who you’re doing it for,” said Dhillon.
Today, the Pink Whistle team has ten dedicated volunteers sharing a common goal and unmatched passion for the cause.
The team is proud of its diversity and ability to connect with its community.
“Today, it consists of 10 of us on the Pink Whistle Legacy Fund committee, and to see how the group has influenced others is the most rewarding thing for me as how us referees have not only found a way to bind together, but bind the basketball community,” said Dhillon.
The drastic change in the kit and tools synonymous with a referee sparks curiosity and conversation, and with that, a story is told creating a personal connection with the community.
“If you look around, and people are asking new questions, ‘hey, what are those? What is that for?’ It is a doorway and a gateway for us to take people to the next level,” said Dhillon.
A community bound together with a common goal and a love for the game that stretches past the borders of our province. Going into Washington State and California.
“There’s out-of-province support from Washington State and California and they are sending cash up here, saying ‘we know you as a family, we know that you are doing a good job,’ “said Dhillon.
The Pink Whistle Campaigns work in the community, and what they have accomplished is remarkable. Their long volunteer hours have paid off, raising over $170,000 since 2010, and the work is far from over.
“Cancer is relentless, but so are we. We won’t stop. Kindest regards from the BC Basketball Officials,” A message found on the donation site that captures the energy, commitment, and passion this team has for the cause. Donations can be made online or in person, and all proceeds go to the BC Cancer Foundation.