Focused on a Championship and a Cure
Feb. 21, 2008
by Jeff Smith
If you have been following women's basketball this season, you have probably noticed several teams wearing pink jerseys. Some players have their shoes tied with pink shoelaces and some have their hair pulled back with a pink headband. Coaches have paced the sidelines in pink shirts or suits, keeping an eye on referees with their pink whistles.
You think, oh that must be a cancer promotion, right? But are you aware of the numbers facing women today? Are you aware that if you or someone you love has yet to be affected by cancer, statistics prove that one day you will?
This year one out of every 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. One in every 33 will die from it. Today, women as young as 25 years old are diagnosed with the disease.
Those are chilling statistics and Dana Curish, executive director of the Indianapolis affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, says the numbers will only get worse if women of all ages are not made aware of this disease.
So the "Think Pink" campaign that has been seen across the collegiate women's basketball scene this year is far more than a promotion. It is a mission. It is a mission to create awareness and educate women of all ages the seriousness of breast cancer and the importance of monthly self-examinations.
That is why the Big Ten Conference will partner with the Indianapolis affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure during this year's Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament presented by Xbox 360 Live.
The conference office will donate $2 from every ticket purchased for the semifinals of this year's event, which will take place on Saturday, March 8. The tournament will be held over four days, March 6-9, in Indianapolis at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Curish, who has served in her current role for four years, is excited about the opportunity to reach women's basketball fans of all ages.
"We are currently distributing information about the Big Ten Tournament to our mailing list of 3,000 people and hopefully we will have a large crowd of survivors present as well," said Curish, who is also a proud breast cancer survivor. "We will also be at the tournament's youth clinic on Saturday talking to some of the younger girls in attendance. Hopefully they will retain the information and go home and tell their mothers."
This season breast cancer has indirectly affected several members of the Northwestern women's basketball team as Sara Stutz's mother is once again fighting the disease.
"Sara's mother was six-year survivor and is back dealing with treatment right now, so it has been something that has touched our team and obviously touched our players as we have gone through the season," said Wildcat head coach Beth Combs.
The "Think Pink" initiative was expanded this season at the encouragement of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA), having watched NC State head coach Kay Yow fight through a public battle with breast cancer last year. In 2007, close to 125 women's basketball teams joined forces to promote "Think Pink" and this year the total number of participants has eclipsed 1,000.
Lisa Bluder, head coach at Iowa and a current member of the WBCA Board of Directors, has been impressed with this year's participation, but notes that breast cancer awareness is a cause everyone should be willing to take on.
"On one hand it's amazing to see the growth and how much we grew in one year in this campaign," she said. "On the other hand, it's a natural. Shouldn't it be happening? Shouldn't women wanting to be supporting this event and trying to raise awareness for breast cancer?"
The money raised at the women's tournament this year will stay in central Indiana and help 21 surrounding counties. Curish says the Indianapolis affiliate's goal is to fund local non-profit organizations and target low-income women.
"In 2008, we will be providing $1.5 million to 21 organizations that will be providing services here in the region," she said. "Our goal is to educate 29,000 people and provide 8,500 services in the area this year."
Of the total money that is raised by the Indianapolis affiliate, 75 percent stays in the region, while the remaining 25 percent goes to the national organization to fun scientific research, some of which is done locally in Indianapolis.
Minnesota's Pam Borton was proud of the Golden Gophers' efforts when the school hosted its first "Think Pink" day on Feb. 10. Through donations and an auction of game-worn jerseys, the Gophers raised $5,000 for the American Cancer Society of Minnesota. Borton feels that the television exposure women's basketball is receiving these days is also helping spread the message and create awareness.
"For a lot of the games to be on TV, to raise the national awareness, to be able to have women represent this on national TV and so forth, it just really means a lot to people," she said.
For the first time in Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament history, all 10 games will be televised before a national audience, including the first nine games on the Big Ten Network and the championship final on ESPN2.
Fans in attendance are encouraged to wear pink throughout the event, donate spare change in the collection buckets inside Conseco Fieldhouse, and post photos or names of those affected by breast cancer on the Honorary Banner in the Entry Pavilion.
Women of all ages should also stop by the Susan G. Komen for the Cure kiosk inside the facility to learn more about monthly self-examinations and early detection.
"The best way to saves lives right now is early detection," Curish said. "But having events like this one may also save lives as we are trying to get the word out and tell everyone they are at the risk of breast cancer."
Curish goes on to point out that although the tournament will feature a number of healthy women on the court, part of the issue right now is that younger females believe breast cancer is an older woman's disease and maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle will not put them at risk.
Both are false.
"Everybody knows of somebody in their family or close personal friends that has experienced breast cancer or death and I think it really hits home," Borton said.
It is projected that 10 million women around the world could die from breast cancer in the next 25 years. But with increased awareness, early detection and self-examinations, those numbers will decrease dramatically.
This March in Indianapolis, 11 teams will converge on Conseco Fieldhouse fighting for a championship, but all of us will be there fighting for a cure.