BELLA VISTA, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Cancer Challenge has been around for almost 30 years and two guys have been there nearly every step of the way.
Jake Shoemake and Paul Pautsch have both spent decades rallying for the Cancer Challenge. Paul, a tennis coach at the time, launched the very first one with Sam Walton.
“He’d come out here and play a couple days a week. He had his buddies he always played with. And one day in May of ’87 he came up to me and said, “we’re going to do a charity tournament,”” Pautsch said.
Back then it was not called the Cancer Challenge but it did raise $30,000 that first year.
“The next year it turned into what we called the Phillips Pro Celebrity Classic. He turned it over to John and Harlan Phillips,” Pautsch said.
Jake, just a teenager at the time, played a slightly lesser role.
“I was a ball boy in high school for the cancer challenge in 1988, ’89,” Shoemake said.
From there, It took off featuring celebrities like Rod Laver and Poncho Segura. That eventually phased out and for the past 29 years, the Cancer Challenge has focused on making the players feel like celebrities.
“The players make the event. We wouldn’t have the cancer challenge without the players. They’re the stars of the show. Our job is to help them shine as much as they can and make this as enjoyable for them as possible,” Shoemake said.
As time has passed, The Cancer Challenge has taken on more importance for Shoemake, losing both his father and sister to cancer.
“The effects of it on my life are immeasurable. Two of my son’s grandparents never met him. They were gone before he was born so the void that he has and we all have because of cancer is immeasurable,” he said.
So this year, as Paul enjoys retirement, it just made sense who would serve as the next tournament organizer.
“I’m going to do whatever jake tells me to do,” Pautsch said with a laugh.
You can register for the tennis tournament or make a donation to support world-class cancer care by clicking here.