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Lake Erie College takes on breast cancer

Lake Erie College takes on breast cancer

It didn't take rose-colored glasses to see that the basketball doubleheader for breast cancer awareness was a success.

The referees used pink whistles and pink NCAA game balls, pink ribbons hung from ponytails on the women's team, and pink T-shirts speckled the stands. Not to mention the fluorescent pink headbands on the men.

"Look out there," Lake Erie College Athletic Director Griz Zimmermann said from the men's game sidelines. "They're wearing pink socks over their white socks!

"From workers to students to fans, male and female, everybody has embraced this with luster. Everybody's put their own little touch on it."

Combined with the sale of T-shirts and bracelets, donations collected at Lake Erie College's first "Taking Breast Cancer by Storm" event raised more than $1,400 for the Kay Yow/Women's Basketball Coaches Association Cancer Fund, which partners with the V Foundation for Cancer Research.

The free event also joined the Pink Wave initiative of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which Lake Erie College Athletics joins this fall.

Delightfully both teams also delivered victories against Central State University, the women breaking two school records in the process, at the Jerome T. Osborne Family Athletic & Wellness Center in Painesville.

Kay Yow, a legendary North Carolina State University women's basketball coach diagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, served as the catalyst for the WBCA's Pink Zone after her third reoccurrence of breast cancer in 2006. Her campaign raised more than $1.3 million for the cause in 2009, though she lost her battle in January.

She's also remembered for her Olympic gold medal win as coach of the 1988 U.S. women's basketball team.

"We felt we've got this great opportunity in February, when they usually do it, with a doubleheader here at home — let's make it a special event," said Jason Tirotta, the college's sports information and marketing coordinator. "Hopefully we'll make this a staple."

Sports 'N' Sports in Madison provided T-shirts, giving all $5 from each sale to the cause. Both Storm teams, and about 40 game day and administrative staff, wore blush-colored shooting shirts and accessories.

The overwhelming support of athletes, cheerleaders and staff warmed the hearts of several cancer survivors in the bleachers — invited to stand and be recognized during each game.

"I heard about Kay Yow; she fought it for a long, long time," said Jean Bolinger of Cortland, diagnosed in 2003. Her granddaughter is junior power forward Alyssa Wagers. "I think it's great that the teams get involved in it, and the pink hair bands — I love the pink hair bands on the guys."

Likewise, Sue Billhardt of Painesville Township, a friend of the women's coaches, has been cancer-free three years now, but the disease killed her husband's mother, Rose Billhardt of Willoughby, before they could ever meet.

"The changes that have been made in 30 years are just unbelievable, and it's all because of the funds that are raised for breast cancer awareness," she said.

"What's neat is these young girls who do events like this become even more aware, and things they do today may help them one day, or one of their teammates or their mother or their sister.

"I never met my mother-in-law, but hopefully they'll meet theirs because they'll be around because people like me will be around."
To learn more about the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund, or make an online donation, visit