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Fishing Tourney Reels in Support, Funds for Cancer Research

The Fourth Annual Saugatuck Cup is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. It was founded by Fairfield couple Matt and Kristin Spengler after their son, James, battled pediatric cancer.

Fishing Tourney Reels in Support, Funds for Cancer Research Fishing Tourney Reels in Support, Funds for Cancer Research

Five years ago, Matt and Kristin Spengler found themselves in a place where no parent wants to be: in the pediatric unit of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, learning of their son James' cancer diagnosis.

The couple, who reside in Fairfield, was told that 2-year-old James had neurofibromatosis (NF), a little known tumor disease and rare form of cancer. James had developed "cafe-au-lait" spots -- markers for NF -- at six months, and about two years later Kristin had felt a lump on the toddler that prompted the Spenglers to visit the cancer center.

Ten months of chemo and tons of follow-ups, scans, and tests later, James -- now 7 and a second grader at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Fairfield -- was deemed healthy and "is doing great to this day," Matt Spengler said in a recent interview with Patch.

It was both James' courage and the care he received at Memorial Sloan-Kettering that inspired the Spenglers to start both a non-profit and the Saugatuck Cup, a fundraiser in the form of a fishing tournament.

"You really felt as though they were as concerned about your child as you were," Spengler said of the oncologists, nurses, and staff at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. "It was such a profound experience -- I felt compelled to say, 'what can we do, how can we give back?'"

The first step was creating a nonprofit organization, the 9th Floor Foundation (a nod to the ninth floor of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where James was treated). Next was figuring out how to fundraise.

The Westport native always loved fishing and was familiar with the Redbone tournaments in Florida, some of which raise money and awareness for different diseases. Spengler thought a similar tournament could easily be held in Long Island Sound.

"This could be something unique I'd like to do," Spengler recalled thinking. So he approached the owner of Westport Outfitters, Eric Johnson, who agreed with the idea and partnered with Spengler to launch the first Saugatuck Cup in 2009.

Between the past three charity tournaments and other events, the 9th Floor Foundation has raised roughly $100,000 to support scientific research of NF and pediatric cancers, and to develop financial assistance programs for families battling those illnesses.

"People are bankrupted," Spengler said of the high costs of long-term treatment. "The money helps look for a cure and help the families that need it."

The catch-and-release tournament -- scheduled this year for Saturday, Oct. 6, from 7 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. -- is open to boat and kayak anglers and offers both spin and fly rod users the chance to reel in striped bass, bluefish, and false albacores.

All entrants must follow the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's guidelines for boaters and anglers and launch from anywhere on the Connecticut side of Long Island Sound.  Participants will follow an honor system, starting at 7 a.m., taking photos of their catches before releasing them, and ending at 3:30 p.m. Additional rules are attached, as well as the registration form, to this story.

Winners get their names inscribed on the trophy, known as "The Cup."

Those interested in fishing to make a "REEL difference" during the 2012 Saugatuck Cup should visit the tournament's official website for more information and either print, fill out, and mail in the registration form and entry fee, or drop off the form and entry fee at Westport Outfitters. This year event is co-hosted by the 9th Floor Foundation, Westport Outfitters, route: {:controller=>"listings", :action=>"show", :id=>"westport-outfitters"} -->, and

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