Blake Arnet, who played basketball at UCLA from 2008-2011, created Dunk MS, a fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis (MS). It was personal. His mother, Brigitte Renae DeRouen-Venclik, 47, died from the disease when Arnet was a sophomore in college in 2009.
“She was the rock of the family and her independent and hardworking spirit helped so many people throughout her life,” Arnet said. “She was my best friend and role model who inspired our family to never give up and always persevere.”
At an event at UCLA on May 20, more than $70,000 was raised.
“To my knowledge, Dunk MS is the world’s only charity dunk show!” he said. This year donations will support MS research at UCLA Health led by world-renowned MS researcher, Dr. Voskuhl. Dunk MS is now an official event of MS4MS (Mission Stadiums for Multiple Sclerosis).
Arnet organized the first Dunk MS event in 2018 that was held at Palisades High School. The next year a second fundraiser was held at PaliHi. Covid necessitated the 2020 event be held virtually. There was a year’s absence, and in 2022 and2023, the fundraiser was held at UCLA.
“We’ve raised over $150,000 in our first four years,” said Arnet, who works on Dunk MS in his spare time. “We’ve split the funds between kids’ basketball and MS research in the past.” He also thanks his year-round volunteer team, advisory board and junior board, for producing the event.
He said, “Our goal is to host Dunk MS 2024 in May at UCLA’s legendary Pauley Pavilion.”
Working as a Senior Customer Success Manager at Solid (a Fintech startup), Arnet was asked how he came up with the idea for Dunk MS. “Being a former Mater Dei and UCLA Basketball player, basketball is a huge part of my life,” he said.
Arnet received UCLA Athletics Rose Gilbert Courage & Character Award in 2011, during his junior year at UCLA.
“After attending Walk MS and Bike MS for a few years with my family, I was determined to create my own event and raise as much as possible in honor of my mom,” Arnet said. “I took my basketball, sports coaching, and entrepreneur background and decided to create a new event that would cater to the entire family, the MS community and attendees without kids.”
While the kids’ basketball clinic is underway, there are sponsor tables, a photo booth, lawn games, raffle prizes, a virtual silent auction and free food.
“I think we resonate with people because it’s a fun event for kids and parents, attendees without kids – and MS Warriors alike,” Arnet said. “We also have a DJ playing fun and upbeat music the entire time.”
Arnet was asked if it’s difficult to get athletes to participate. “Ever since 2018, it hasn’t been too hard to get new pro dunkers as it’s a small dunker world and they love to support a great cause,” he said. “I couldn’t throw this event without them, and they put on an amazing dunk show every year! It’s great to watch the kids’ reactions as well.”
This year, pro dunkers participating were Guy Oliver, Brandon Ruffin, Chris Staples, Elijah Bonds and Tyler Currie.
In addition to already looking to next year’s fundraiser, Arnet hopes to rebrand and launch Heart of Hope in 2024.
He remembers when his mom was diagnosed with MS in 2007. “Sadly, she didn’t know there were support groups and never had one during her battle with MS,” Arnet said.
His mom was not aware of the people who were fighting alongside her to find a cure. The Heart of Hope coin is a symbol for the fight. Currently, they are available at the Cedars-Sinai MS Program in L.A. and at the UCLA MS Program in Westwood (visit: dunkms.com/heart-of-hope).
To learn more about DunkMS, visit: Dunkms.com, Instagram: @DunkMS and on Facebook and Twitter: @DunkMSOfficial.