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Feb. 14, 2014
By Astrid Diaz, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Lady Lion Basketball team will look to reach a major milestone on Sunday afternoon during the celebration of nearly 700 breast cancer survivors at their Eighth Annual Pink Zone game.
The Lady Lions have set the standard to top the funds raised every year compared to the previous, and this year's game is no different with their $300,000 goal in mind, a $40,000 increase from 2013.
The 2014 Pink Zone game anticipates the possible reveal of the $1 million mark in fundraising efforts by the organization.
The entire Pennsylvania Pink Zone army works year round to market and organize the game beginning with a kick-off event in October.
Head coach Coquese Washington and the Lady Lions attend fundraising events and conferences throughout the calendar year to advocate the event and show their support.
However, the story of this campaign did not start out with a record-breaking million-dollar proposal. Instead, it began with a $5,000 check from the Big Ten Conference and a crazy idea. The check was given to all the universities in the conference with a women's basketball team for use to promote their program and attract fans.
"[The Big Ten] said to us, `All you need to do is write up a summary of what you're going to do with the $5,000'," said Assistant Athletics Director, Jennifer James. "So we all met and [Former Lady Lions head coach] Rene Portland said, `I want to do something where we can take these $5,000 and grow. I want to do something big and use these $5,000 as a start."
It took an entire team of passionate individuals to put on the very first "Think Pink" game and on February 4, 2006, the Penn State women's basketball team became the first team in the NCAA to sport pink uniforms during a game.
The halftime show included 31 breast cancer survivors along with their friends and family, dressed in pink, lined up to form a ribbon.
That year they raised $20,0000.
"It just steamrolled from there," said James. "The second year we gave survivors red clown noses and kazoos."
Pink Zone has become more than just a basketball game. It has become a celebration of life.
"We came up with this idea of numbers," said James. "We gave these boards to survivors and asked our volunteers to write down their years of survivorship."
"When we turned on the lights after the singer [last year], the survivors raised their signs. It was such a powerful moment." James described.
Today, the Bryce Jordan Center has seen 3,167 years of survivorship walk through its walls.
While members of Pink Zone have had to say goodbye to friends and family that have lost their battle with breast cancer, their efforts to find a cure will not come to an end anytime soon.
"That's going to be our biggest and best Pink Zone, when we announce that we have a cure," said James.
Fifteen buses of survivors will join the celebration on Sunday where they will receive a "swag bag" full of gifts, like t-shirts, stress balls, and shakers.
"We try and treat the survivors like royalty," said James.
Pennsylvania Pink Zone also hopes that fans will enjoy the celebration as much as they do.
Twelve thousand pink shakers will fill every seat in the arena and 10,000 pink glow wands will be ready to shine bright when the lights go off.
Organizers have even reached out to the NCAA in hopes that they would allow the women to play with pink basketballs and pink nets. For now, the uniforms, the shakers, the glow sticks, the banners, the lights, and the referees' whistles will have to do the trick.
In the last eight years, the Lady Lions and the Pennsylvania Pink Zone have done more with that original $5,000 check than imagined.
They have established an official Lady Lions Cancer Research endowment, provided funding to upgrade technology, and opened a five-year position at Mount Nittany Medical Center for a breast health navigator, to name a few.
But most importantly, they have instilled hope and strength in the lives of so many people.
What began as an event to honor 31 survivors has turned into a festival of life for more than 690, and the numbers will continue to grow.
Every year, when the Bryce Jordan Center turns pink for a cause, it is about much more than numbers. It is about supporting a community of individuals that are just looking for some encouragement.
Student-athlete Ariel Edwards was published in the Centre Daily Times this month in an article where she speaks about her connection to the charity and her commitment to the cause.
"When I reflect back on my experience playing basketball at Penn State, I will remember this game and all of the smiling faces of the survivors in the stands," Edwards wrote in her article, Pink Zone an Enriching Experience.
"Our ultimate goal is to see zero," said James. "Zero women with breast cancer."
The Lady Lions will play the team that saw the Pink Zone idea from the jump-start in 2006, the Wisconsin Badgers, on Sunday at 1 p.m.