Huggins Homecoming raises $150K to support WVU Cancer Institute

The inaugural Huggins Homecoming in Cincinnati raised more than $150,000 to bolster cancer care and research at the WVU Cancer Institute.

The Huggins Homecoming festivities welcomed West Virginia University Men’s Basketball Coach Bob Huggins back to the Queen City – which he called home during his tenure at the University of Cincinnati, from 1989 to 2005 – for three events to support the Norma Mae Huggins Endowment Fund at the WVU Foundation. Huggins established the memorial fund after his mother lost her battle with colon cancer in 2003. 

The Huggins Homecoming events included a 5K run/walk along the scenic Little Miami Trail, post-run food and drinks at Fifty West Brewing Company, and a chicken and ribs dinner at Ohio’s original Montgomery Inn. Huggins welcomed new University of Cincinnati Men’s Basketball Coach Wes Miller and former Bearcats players Tarrice Gibson, Keith Gregor, Corie Blount, Terry Nelson and Erik Martin – now an assistant coach for WVU – as special guests for the dinner, which was emceed by retired Cincinnati sports anchor Dennis Janson.

Between in-person attendees and livestream viewers, the Huggins Homecoming events attracted participants from Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, New York and Oregon. Combined proceeds totaled $150,043.

“I can’t thank Pete and Linda enough for all they’ve done and continue to do for our cause,” Huggins said. “Their vision and commitment to raise funds and awareness to support my mother’s endowment is inspiring. I’m truly grateful for their partnership. Special thanks too to Frank DeJulius and Fleet Feet Cincinnati for leading the way on our first-ever charity 5K. Together, we are making great things happen, and I’m already looking forward to next year.” 

Huggins Homecoming was conceived by Cincinnati-area business owners Pete and Linda Zulia. Pete Zulia is a three-time graduate of WVU and longtime supporter of Coach Huggins. The two men developed a friendship after connecting several years ago at Bob Huggins Basketball Fantasy Camp. When Zulia shared how he lost his father, Simon, to lung cancer over 25 years ago, Huggins encouraged Zulia to make a difference by investing in clinical research.

Inspired by Huggins and a visit to the WVU Cancer Institute, the Zulias committed to raising $1 million to support the Norma Mae Huggins Endowment Fund. They started by donating $50,000 of their own money and $50,000 from their company, Oxford Physical Therapy Centers. Then, they challenged employees to contribute and partnered with other Cincinnati-area businesses.

Oxford Physical Therapy Centers, Fleet Feet Cincinnati and Central Bank sponsored the event. Fleet Feet owner Frank DeJulius contributed $25,000 and coordinated the Huggins Homecoming 5K run/walk, while Central Bank contributed $35,000. Afidence and Game Day Communications also provided support.

“Linda and I were overwhelmed by the Cincinnati turnout for our event,” Pete Zulia said. “The support and love shown for Coach’s Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Endowment was palpable! That energy shows Cincinnati’s commitment in helping Coach Huggins find a cure for cancer and has already kick-started next year’s Huggins Homecoming. Thank you, Cincinnati!

“Planning an event of this magnitude in such a short amount of time, while navigating through all current challenges, was an amazing feat. We cannot thank Cory Chambers and Stephanie McCandless, of the WVU Cancer Institute, enough for guiding us through the process. And finally, we want to thank Coach Huggins. Thank you for allowing us the honor to share your mother’s name in the fight against cancer, it means the world to us.” 

While the WVU Cancer Institute primarily serves residents of West Virginia and neighboring states, the Zulias were struck by the broader impact of the clinical trials supported by the Norma Mae Endowment Fund. They summarized the importance in a slogan for potential supporters in the Cincinnati area: “Cancer Research and Care for Everyone … Everywhere.”

“Bob Huggins’ passion for the WVU Cancer Institute is helping fuel our mission to provide high quality of care closer to home for countless West Virginians,” Dr. Hannah Hazard-Jenkins, director of the WVU Cancer Institute, Jean & Laurence DeLynn Chair of Oncology and associate professor of surgery at the WVU School of Medicine, said. “We are deeply grateful to Pete and Linda Zulia and their supporters in the greater Cincinnati area for partnering with Coach Huggins to raise funds and promote awareness of the great work being done at the WVU Cancer Institute. Generous supporters like the Zulias are making a tangible impact, funding both critical and practical needs in the fight against cancer.”

All contributions to the Norma Mae Huggins Endowment Fund are made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that solicits and administers private donations on behalf of the University. Learn more about giving opportunities at the WVU Cancer Institute or visit give.wvu.edu/wvucancerinstitute to make a gift online.