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Everybody wins on Shelter Island’s Dig Pink Day: Island volleyball teams rally for cancer awareness

“Really, every single player?”

The Pierson junior varsity coach looked at me incredulously. It was the start of Shelter Island’s October 6 Dig Pink celebration, our annual volleyball-themed breast health fundraiser.

Yes, every single player, no matter how much playing time she got or didn’t get, was introduced and included in the pre-game festivities. Every athlete playing high school volleyball puts in time, effort and sweat to reach her best potential.

Likewise, no one is exempt from the possibility of getting breast cancer, so every person on the Whaler and Islander rosters got their moment in the spotlight.

Dig Pink is a celebration which draws enthusiastic support from teachers, parents, alumni and the community.

Started in 2006 by a coach in Virginia whose mother had breast cancer, Dig Pink is a unifying event throughout the volleyball community. Thousands of high school and college teams have raised funds for research focusing on Stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer.

On Oct. 6 volunteers helped staff the popular bake sale and merchandise tables, which sold bracelets, shirts and honorary ribbons. The Whalers and Islanders wore their pink warm-up shirts in solidarity and happily purchased baked goods to support the cause. Over $650 was raised for the Side Out Foundation.

The varsity squad, with their Dig Pink posters behind them, ready to take on the Pierson Whalers on October 6. (Credit: Adam Bundy)

There was no missing that this volleyball match between Shelter Island and Pierson was not just another match. The bleachers were awash in pink, and posters adorned the walls of the gym. The artistic rendering of the athletes’ names, numbers and positions spoke of the pride they have playing for the Islanders.

The five seniors — Alex Burns, Andrea Napoles, Madison Springer, Margaret Schultheis and Mary Gennari — led the charge on the court and in the preparation efforts. The juniors — Harper Congdon, Kaitlyn Gulluscio, Kat Austin, McKenzie Speece and Sophie Clark — each brought their touch to the celebration, including selling ribbons in advance of the match.

The junior varsity squad has had less experience with Dig Pink, but that didn’t dampen their pride or enthusiasm. The three sophomores — Dariana Duran Alvarado, Johanna Kaasik and Tola Bliss — helped organize the younger players, and led the way as each athlete was introduced, and then ran to deliver a pink carnation to a relative or friend in the stands.

The large group of 9th graders enthusiastically baked sweets and decorated the bleachers in streamers, balloons, and paper flowers. Elli Schack, Grace Katherine-Lim, Keili Osorio Lopez, Lauren Gibbs, Lili Kuhr, Mae Brigham, Miranda Marcello, Quinn Sobejana and Victoria Hernandez all had a great time in their first athletic fundraising event.

With one in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s essential that these young athletes know their bodies and are proactive in keeping healthy.

Frank talk about health is a starting point. Adult community members barely muffled a laugh as I acknowledged the reluctance of many to schedule their annual mammogram.

Early awareness and pride in one’s body is the foundation for a healthier life, and Dig Pink is a great way to introduce that topic. The widespread support of fighters and survivors was tangible in the gym that afternoon, as all present showed we’re willing to fight this disease together.

Sure, a volleyball game was played October 6, but that wasn’t the focus of the day. Pierson and Shelter Island competed to win a volleyball match, but they cooperated to raise funds and awareness and to make a commitment for a better future.

Everybody, including every single player, won on October 6.

Andrea Napoles and Kat Austin jump high to block the Pierson attack. (Credit: Adam Bundy)