September 21, 2014

Elyria
Partly sunny
75°F
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Volleyball players team to fight breast cancer

When the pink ladies of Elyria High School take the court Tuesday, they’ll be spiking to defeat more than just the opposing team from Strongsville. This pastel match is dedicated to defeating a deadly adversary that does not play fair: breast cancer.

The 34 volleyball players of the three EHS teams — freshman, JV and varsity — are participating in “Volley for the Cure: 800 Teams vs. Breast Cancer,” a statewide effort to promote breast cancer education and awareness for young women.

COURTESY TERRI GUERINI
Elyria High varsity volleyball team co-captain Jen Bower models a Volley for the Cure T-shirt.

The initiative, spearheaded by the Ohio High School Volleyball Coaches Association in partnership with the Ohio High School Athletic Association and Susan G. Komen Foundation, is modeled after a 2006 match between Sycamore and Loveland High Schools in Cincinnati.

More than 550 teams throughout the state and more than 1,300 schools are participating, said Carol Russo, president of the Coaches Association.

“The leadership of the Coaches Association saw this as a very worthy cause and something that we wanted to pursue for our young women because educational awareness is key,” said Russo, who coached the Elyria High varsity volleyball team for 26 years before this season. “The fundraising and leadership opportunities that evolve because the girls are in charge of this event are all bonuses. Our goal was the educational awareness. School athletics are educational; they are an extension of the classroom.”

You don’t have to sit in a classroom to know that breast cancer is a leading cause of death among women, killing more than 40,000 women in 2006. Every three minutes, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and every 13 minutes, a woman dies from the disease, according to www.komen.org.

“Your largest risk factor of breast cancer is that you are a female and there is nothing you can do about that,” said Russo, whose grandmother and mother-in-law died of breast cancer. Their memories will be honored on the MVP wall displayed during the Elyria match — a sideline fundraiser created by the players, where people or businesses can pay to display a message courtside. “So we have to prepare our young women for what could happen to them in their lifetime. It’s one of those if we save anyone, if we make one person more aware, then we are successful.”

More than $6,000 has been raised so far through raffles, bake sales and the sales of more than 500 pink “Volley for the Cure” T-shirts that will get people into the games free. All donated dollars go to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

“We want to pack the stands in pink, and we want everyone to wear their pink T-shirt,” said Terri Guerini, spokeswoman for the varsity parent committee that has worked alongside players and coaches to create a profitable and educational event. Guerini’s daughter is Jen Bower, a co-captain of the varsity team.

“This means so much to all of us at Elyria High,” Jen said. “It’s an honor to help raise money for the Susan Komen Foundation and promote awareness of breast cancer in our community. Mrs. Russo had a wonderful idea to use volleyball to help raise awareness across Ohio.”

Jodi Richards, No. 18 and co-captain of the varsity team, agreed. “It means a lot to me to be able to help with such an important cause for not only our community, but for women all across the country,” she said.

Jodie Johnson, head coach of the varsity team with a 10-4 record (5-1 in the conference) and on a 10-game winning streak, said her girls are “ridiculously excited” to play Tuesday’s conference match.

“These girls went out and they petitioned funds from different corporations and from different families who maybe have lost a family member or struggled with this disease,” Johnson said. “This game brings all of the hard work on the part of the players, coaching staff and the parents together. I’m hoping that people put on those (pink) shirts and come out and support our cause and our efforts to fight breast cancer.”

Tuesday’s match will include raffles, drawings and a fundraiser meal of chicken and stuffing with gravy for sale at the concession stand during the games. Look for a chance to win a pink and white volleyball. Corporate sponsor Molten USA donated 800 of these balls to be used in the fund-raising matches.