UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When the Lady Lions hit the court against Michigan on Sunday, Jan. 17th, they'll be doing so in unity with breast cancer survivors across the commonwealth for the annual Pink Zone game. In it's tenth year, the Lady Lions have continued to join forces with the Pennsylvania Pink Zone to present the game.
Head coach Coquese Washington has seen the event grow tremendously since she has been at Penn State, with over 700 survivors honored during last year's game.
The notoriety that the game has garnered from the team and the community has also led to more funds being raised. After raising just over $20,000 in 2007, Pink Zone topped over $300,000 in 2015. Washington is proud to have her team be a part of something so positive for the community.
"When you look at the amount of funds raised, that's one of the things that we're most proud of," Washington said. "And the vast majority of the funds that we raise stay right here, locally, in Centre County and in the state of Pennsylvania so the impact that we're having, it's touching the people who support Lady Lion Basketball, it's touching people that support Penn State."
Washington and her staff want their players to understand who and what they're playing for when they put on their pink uniforms each year. Many of the players have been touched by cancer personally, and Washington wants to give them the opportunity to express themselves.
"We try to make sure that they (the players) understand it," Washington said. "We do some different programming throughout the year with our team so they understand what Pink Zone is about and we give them an opportunity to talk about how cancer has touched them. We want them to put their arms around it, [and see] that it's not just 'oh, we play in pink uniforms.' There's a lot of history and a lot that goes into it and we want them to certainly be aware of what it all means."
Junior Peyton Whitted has seen first-hand what it takes to defeat breast cancer. Her grandmother Lillie McKinley fought the disease while Whitted was in high school, and even moved in with Whitted and her family in order to recover.
"My grandmother had breast cancer when I was in high school. She was able to survive from it and she fought it for about 3-4 years. It was just tough because we had to move her from Tennessee because my grandfather was struggling with lung cancer at the time, as well. So we had to move both of them back into our house [in Georgia] and just take care of them," Whitted said.
After seeing her grandma bravely fight breast cancer, the Pink Zone game holds that much more meaning to Whitted.
"This game is really special to me because I think about my grandmother and her being able to watch the game is exciting because she's here, she fought through this and it's great to see all the other survivors along with her," Whitted said. "It's just a great feeling just to do that but it also makes you reflect and be thankful that you're able to do what you love."
Whitted and her teammates play an important role in making the Pink Zone game successful. The team hosts fundraisers throughout the year, and even visit patients to show their support for their fight.
"We do a lot of things as far as our community service," Whitted said. "We do the Hoop Shoot before football games where we try to raise money for the cause and people just come and shoot with us. Two years ago we met with patients and we talked to them, so we want to make sure that we're doing our part as far as having them come support us and then also supporting them by raising money."
As game day draws closer, Washington is looking forward to another successful Pink Zone game. Breaking records year after year, she is hoping that this year's game will be just as great as the previous ones.
"It's a great day for us; our kids absolutely love it; they absolutely love the Pink Zone game. I'm looking forward to it and hopefully we'll have another spectacular year this year in terms of survivors and funds raised and the experience. I'm sure the experience is going to be a fantastic [one]," Washington said.
The Pink Zone game is Sunday at the Bryce Jordan Center. Tip is set for 2:00 p.m.