Carin Gabbara

Navy women's soccer coach Carin Gabbara holds the Headers for Hope plaque. Her team has been participating in the event since the very beginning. (Photo courtesy of Nell Enriquez / April 9, 2013)

Cancer is always personal. It’s a disease that touches everyone. Sooner or later, it’s guaranteed that you will either know someone who has cancer, has fought it or has lost to it.

At this year’s Headers for Hope, a women’s college soccer tournament, it’s more personal than ever. 

“There’s a huge connection this year,” said Navy coach Carin Gabarra. “This is the first year that we’re playing in the tournament since we lost Christine Weeks.”

Christine Weeks Scofield was a 1999 United States Naval Academy graduate. In 1997, as a forward on the women’s soccer team, she participated in the first Kicks Against Breast Cancer tournament, which was the predecessor to Headers for Hope.

At a presentation during the tournament, the players were told that one in eight of them would develop breast cancer during their lifetime.  Weeks turned out to be the one.

“Christine was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer at age 29,” Gabarra said.

Weeks, a surgeon, died June 2012.

The Naval Academy has been in the tournament every year and is one of seven NCAA Division I teams participating in this weekend’s Headers for Hope scheduled for April 13 at Howard High School. Admission is $10 and the tournament benefits the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults.

Gabarra said her players have designed a shirt with Week’s number on it.

Louise Waxler founded Headers for Hope two years ago in lieu of Kicks against Breast Cancer, which she also founded.

“Our goal is not to cure cancer but to help people dealing with it while they are still alive. We want to make it more bearable,” Waxler said. “We’re just trying to make a difference.”

In addition to the Naval Academy, Maryland, Penn State, the University of Virginia, Old Dominion University, Loyola University of Maryland and the College of William & Mary will be taking part. The first game gets underway at 9 a.m.

The teams will play two games each, except for Penn State and Virginia, which will face off in the 6 p.m. featured game. Penn State was the NCAA Division I runner-up last fall; Virginia reached the tournament’s round of 16.

A Howard County men’s alumni game will close out the evening at 7:30 p.m. Darryl Gee, Rob Ryerson, Hamisi Amani Dove, Derek Phillips, Sean Peay, Brock Yetso and Chris Williams are among those playing.

“We’ve had some amazing soccer players come out of Howard County,” Waxler said.

The tournament appeals to college teams for a number of reasons. Since seniors don’t participate in spring soccer, it is a time for teams to lay the foundation for the fall season.

“You don’t have that many opportunities in the spring to play games. You are limited to how many games you play and when you can play,” said Virginia coach Steve Swanson. “Playing somebody that is the caliber of Penn State is attractive to us.”

The Naval Academy women’s soccer program came up with the idea of going a step further than just playing soccer.

“My players on the bus felt obligated to do more and they actually put some money together and donated it,” Gabarra said.

Teams are now asked to donate a minimum amount but, according to Waxler, it is a figure that they always exceed.

Ohio State has the record for the most money raised in a single year. The Buckeye women raised $17,000.

“Louise does such an amazing job,” Swanson said. “Soccer is such a small family when you come right down to it nationally. To come together and do something for a good cause is good for our players, good for our team and good for their education.” 

Garbarra agrees.

“You are playing for a different reason, you are playing for something bigger than yourself,” she said. “Everybody loves to be a part of the tournament.”

For more information go to www.headersforhope.org.