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A New Site on Life

Duck coach devotes NHL lockout time to energizing an Internet project for parents whose children have cancer.

May 10, 2005|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

Mike Babcock responded to a question by bounding from behind his desk, pen in hand. This was a display of the passion Mighty Duck players have grown accustomed to in their coach.

Babcock assaulted the drawing board and began diagraming the situation, scribbling words, arrows, lines and circles, literally spelling out a specific goal that he wished could, no, that had to be, achieved.

He wrapped up his presentation, having crammed a board-meeting's worth of information into a few minutes, outlining an interactive website created by Tim Hayden, a close friend, designed to help parents whose children have cancer.

There is no hockey right now, not the NHL variety anyway. The Stanley Cup playoffs should be underway, but the season was canceled in February and the league's future is murky. Babcock coaches on, though, funneling his energy into this project.

It's a personal journey that he is trying to make public.

Jeff Hayden, a 12-year-old, died of brain cancer in October. That alone would have been enough to spur Babcock on this project. But seeing someone close to him die of cancer has happened all too often.

Babcock lost his mother, Gail, to cancer when he was 28. A close friend, former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, lost his son to cancer. Ken Brett, another close friend, died of cancer in 2003. Then Jeff Hayden, who had been a playmate of Babcock's son in Cincinnati.

"This doesn't keep happening in your lifetime if you're not supposed to do something about it," Babcock said. "When it keeps hitting you on the head, pretty soon you're going to wake up and try to help."

So while NHL and union representatives squabble about how to divvy up what was once a $2.1-billion business, Babcock has set about trying to raise money for a website where parents and patients can seek help.

Babcock has worked with Tim Hayden, who runs a high-tech manufacturing company in the Cincinnati area; Dr. Leonard Sender, the medical director for Children's Hospital of Orange County's institute center; and the American Cancer Society. Babcock says his job is the same as it is with the Ducks:

"My role in this, I'm the coach. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm doing cancer research. I get them together, point out what is in it for all of them and why we're going to do it together. It's simple. It's just like on a team. If we do it right, we're all going to succeed.

"So the gift of the lockout for me is the opportunity of time. The other thing, I promised my mom I would try to make a difference."


Babcock stepped to the lectern at a church in West Chester Township, Ohio, having flown overnight to be with the Haydens and speak at their son's funeral.

He looked out at the rows of Jeff's grieving relatives and friends and began talking. "We're gathered here today, in faith, to celebrate Jeff's life and his new life with Christ," he said. "We have no answers to the question, 'Why?' "

Later, Tim Hayden said, "Mike did a great job. He really captured Jeff, did him proud."

Jeff Hayden had been an active, sometimes wonderfully mischievous, kid who lived next door, Babcock told the mourners. When Babcock had coached Cincinnati, the Ducks' minor league team, the Haydens were neighbors. Their sons played together, and the families remained close after Babcock left for Anaheim.

So when Jeff was diagnosed with brain cancer in January 2003, it hit two households hard. He died last October.

"Jeff was about jamming as much into a day as possible," Babcock said.

Soon after the funeral, a maple tree was planted and dedicated to Jeff at his school, Freedom Elementary, and balloons were launched during the ceremony in remembrance.

That was just the beginning for Jeff's parents, and for Babcock.

"The bad thing would have been if I had done nothing," Tim Hayden said.

Tim and Cindy Hayden formed the Jeffrey Thomas Hayden Foundation, a promise Tim had made to his son. Tim Hayden also had vision.

"When your friend loses a child, part of your friendship is, you talk to the guy a lot," Babcock said. "He kept telling me about how difficult it was, trying to find information to help his son.

"This is a guy with all the technology, all the money, all the brainpower, and he couldn't make it happen. He saw this bigger opportunity to help people, people who have that helpless feeling that he and his wife had as parents."

Hayden had the idea for an interactive website with a database, linked from the Jeffrey Thomas Hayden Foundation site -- where parents could go to get second opinions and seek treatment ideas from top doctors.

It has evolved into a site with plans for a virtual hub, linking doctors, and a tumor tracker, designed to provide alternative treatments that other parents have tried.

Babcock had two things to offer: passion and time.

With his team locked out, this was a natural outlet for his concentrated intensity. He approached Sender, Children's Hospital and the American Cancer Society, explaining Hayden's idea.

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