By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Just last weekend, Penn State THON raised over $10 million in support of pediatric cancer research and treatment.
On Sunday, the Lady Lions will do their part in the fight against cancer, honoring breast cancer survivors in the team's annual Play4Kay Day.
Play4Kay is a national event across women's basketball intended to raise money for breast cancer awareness, first started in 2004 by the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. Yow was the head women's basketball coach at North Carolina State for 44 years, and lost her battle with breast cancer in 2009.
Fans and players alike will be dressed in pink for Sunday's game, as the team will wear its alternate pink jerseys. For head coach Coquese Washington, it presents an opportunity for the Lady Lions to be a presence in the community and be a part of a special cause.
"We look at this game again as something where we celebrate the survivors, we celebrate the families who supported the survivors through chemotherapy and treatment," Washington said. "Really it's just a big ol' party at the BJC. We just want the atmosphere and the celebration to be reflective of the energy that the survivors carry. That's what we try to do, and typically it's a great day."
The Play4Kay game, formerly known as the Pink Zone game, is one of the most well-attended games of the year, as fans of the Blue and White are eager to show their support for the survivors and their families.
"The popularity of this game has everything to do with this cause that is really important, and particularly important to women," Washington said. "Many people have been touched by cancer in some way, and this game has really grown because it's about much more than winning and losing. Here at Penn State, it's an opportunity for us to celebrate survivors that have fought through this disease. It's one of those things where we can draw inspiration from the survivors."
Washington was one of the main voices in bringing Play4Kay to Penn State in its early days, understanding the impact it could have on the young women on the team and in the community. She is amazed at the way this charity movement has grown and hopes it continues to move forward in the future.
"I've helped with the incorporation of our Pink Zone and the Pennsylvania Pink Zone," Washington said. "We've just outgrown our office and we saw this as something we could do on the side. It's such a tremendous event and it took a lot of time and planning, so we got a board of directors and a fantastic group of volunteers to run everything. Susan Woodring, our executive director, is fantastic at what she does."
For some Lady Lions, breast cancer has touched close to home. Junior forward Jaylen Williams is very familiar with the disease and what its recovery process entails, as both her grandmother and aunt are breast cancer survivors. Her aunt beat breast cancer just recently.
"I was so little when my grandmother had cancer and I don't really remember it, but now that my aunt went through it and I was around for it and understood the relevance, things like the Play4Kay game mean a lot," Williams said. "Our culture, the culture of every team really, is how it's always bigger than us. THON and the Play4Kay games are just some events that make us realize this is bigger than the game. It means a lot for so many people, and it's awesome that we can make an impact in the way that we do."
Williams understands the sense of unity that's going to be inside the arena as well, as players, fans and coaches can bond and celebrate over conquering cancer, an incredible accomplishment in every way.
"I look at the game as a big community. We're all wearing pink, we're all supporting a good cause and here for a good reason. A lot of people in the arena will have known somebody or even they themselves that has had breast cancer. It's awesome to see how many people are in support of us," Williams said.
For Washington, the game presents a unique opportunity for the players, as they can truly feel like they are playing for someone else.
"It effects a number of players who have someone close to them that's been effected," Washington said. "Moms, aunts and loved ones who've overcame this disease and fought through. This Sunday is an opportunity for them to go out and play for somebody other than themselves, and that's why this team really looks forward to this game."
The Lady Lions play host to Ohio State. Tip off is set for 12 p.m.