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Posted on Wed, Mar 20, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

At the buzzer: March Hoops to Beat Blindness finds new venue to raise money for Kellogg Eye Center

By Janet Miller

Myron Hepner had picked up the 750 brochures and 100 posters for his annual March Hoops to Beat Blindness fundraiser from the printer the day before he received the bad news: Damon’s Grill, the venue for the March Madness watch-a-thon Hepner had organized since 2007, was closing in two days.

Hoops-to-beat-blindness.JPG

Dad Myron Hepner started the Hoops to Beat Blindness fundraiser at Damon's Grill after his son, Brendan, now 10, was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer when he was a baby. Also pictured in this 2012 file photo is Brendan's younger sister, Caitlyn.

Janet Miller | AnnArbor.com file photo

With the NCAA basketball tournament less than four weeks away, Hepner not only had to have the brochures and posters re-printed. He had to hustle to find a new location that had multiple TVs and could handle the 200 to 300 people who turn out for the event.

With time to spare, Hepner found a new location and sponsor for the March 21 and 22 tournament kickoff: Pizza House, 618 Church St., Ann Arbor.

When Hepner’s son, Brendan, was just 9 months old, doctors at the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center diagnosed him with retinoblastoma, a rare cancerous tumor on the retina. Brendan’s eye was removed, and today he is the healthy, cancer-free 10-year-old who loves video games. And basketball.

After the surgery, Hepner began to think of ways he could thank Kellogg Eye Center for saving his son’s life. He put this together with his tradition since the mid-1990s of watching all 32 games of the first round of the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Damon’s Grill and came up with the Hoops to Beat Blindness fundraiser, watching 24 hours of basketball over two days. Last year raised a record $8,000.

Despite the bad news of Damon’s closing in late February, Hepner said he didn’t panic. “I knew I was going to find somewhere to watch basketball. I never thought it wouldn’t happen,” he said. “Every year, something doesn’t go quite right. What I’ve learned is that a crisis can present opportunities to make things even better than before.”

While Damon’s had traditionally donated a portion of the days’ proceeds to Hoops to Beat Blindness, Pizza House will follow suit, donating 15 percent of dine-in and carry-out receipts, Hepner said. Diners must tell their server they want the donation to be made. This year’s donations will support a sight-restoring device called PROSE (Prosthetic Replacement of the Ocular Surface Ecosystem).

It turned out well in the end, Hepner said. The Kalamazoo man who donated the printing, whose son was also a patient at Kellogg Eye Center, agreed to re-print the materials. And Pizza House, on the edge of the U-M campus, should help to attract more students, Hepner said. “I’m hoping for a bigger crowd from the campus community as well as the community around Ann Arbor. It will be as fun and festive as always.”

For more information, go to http://www.beatblindness.com/.

Janet Miller is a freelance reporter. Reach the AnnArbor.com news desk at news@annarbor.com.