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ND Women’s Basketball: Raising the stakes in ‘Pink’

Jared Jedick | Thursday, February 11, 2010

Born from humble origins here on campus a year ago, Notre Dame’s annual “Pink Zone” game, which serves to raise money for breast cancer research and awareness, will tip-off Sunday against DePaul. The event has rapidly grown in the past year to take on a national significance.

“It was really exciting how it started,” Coordinator of Basketball Operations Stephanie Menio said. “It was a bunch of people just coming together on campus. It was myself, [Chief of Staff and Special Assistant to the President] Frances Shavers, and it was somebody from Rolfs, and someone from the Physics department; it was just a lot of people. The great thing about this event is that it is so grass-roots here on campus. People can give just a dollar here and a dollar there.”

Irish coach Muffet McGraw and her players are excited for the opportunity to make a difference in the community with such an important issue.

“It feels great,” McGraw said. “It is a great game for the community. Last year was a really emotional day with seeing all the survivors on the court. It is such an important cause.”

The origins of the event stem from the formation of The Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund on Dec. 3, 2007, in support of former North Carolina State coach Kay Yow’s battle with breast cancer. The fund is also a branch of the V-Foundation, a cancer research foundation formed by ESPN and the late North Carolina State men’s basketball coach, Jim Valvano. Adding significance to the event, Yow recently passed away on Jan. 24, 2009, after her 22-year battle with the disease, which has provided a new galvanization in the basketball community to support the fund.

The Irish first became involved with The Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund in the 2007-08 season when they played in their own “Think Pink” game. The game collected only a modest sum of money for breast cancer research, but it provided an inspirational spark that would lead to the movement gaining steam at Notre Dame in the years to come.

“We started with ‘Think Pink’ three years ago,” Menio said. “We started very small in the 2007-08 season. I think the girls wore pink shoelaces, that kind of thing, and we raised maybe $2,000.”

Menio, along with the entire staff of the women’s basketball team, decided that there was a great opportunity to expand from this initial game and spread the event across Notre Dame’s campus and the South Bend area, as well as to the entire country.

“Last year we got a bunch of people on campus together and said, ‘Let’s see if we can challenge the top 20 teams in the country in attendance to see who can raise the most money for breast cancer awareness and research,'” Menio said. “So we called the Tennessees and the Connecticuts of the world and said, ‘hey, bring it.'”

And the Notre Dame and South Bend community did bring it, earning more money for breast cancer research and awareness than any of the other 19 programs involved.

“We ended up last year winning the challenge with more than $48,000 raised,” Menio said. “So this year we talked to the WBCA and said we wanted to open it up to everyone across the country and see who could raise the most money.”

The game is now coordinated by the Women’s Basketball Coaches’ Association, and is extended to every NCAA women’s basketball team across the country.

Menio’s goal for the game and fundraisers are to raise at least $55,000, but she is hopeful that they will be able to surpass that number. North Carolina State, the former coaching home of Yow, has already raised money in the $90,000 range in their “Pink Zone” game.

The game’s proceeds will benefit two different foundations. The first 25 percent will go to the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund, with the other 75 percent going to three organizations supported by the St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in the local community: the Women’s Task Force, the Secret Sisters Society and the Young Survivors Group.

According to Menio, the Irish are receiving donations and items for the silent auction, making her hopeful for a great showing Sunday. The Irish will take on DePaul at 3 p.m. in the Purcell Pavilion in another Big East battle.