Archbishop Spalding has been hosting a fundraiser for the fight against cancer for the past six years, but Thursday's field hockey game carries special meaning for both the Cavaliers and their opponent, St. Mary's, which is playing in the contest for the first time.
Several weeks ago, Spalding librarian Janet Distasio, who was the team's honorary captain two years ago, lost her battle with cancer; and three months ago -- on July 13 -- St. Mary's student Sarah Anne McMahon, 17, died from complications of leukemia.
While McMahon, who would have been a senior this year, didn't play field hockey, she was close friends with "a lot of our girls," St. Mary's coach Shannon Dickey said. "Her loss makes this game more special to us."
St. Mary's player Kelly Gielner said via email Wednesday that McMahon's battle against cancer made her very aware of the different kind of struggle that has to be endured in a fight for life.
"The physical struggles that we endure during this game and the season are nothing in comparison to the struggles of those battling cancer," Gielner said. "For us to play [Thursday] is a gift; so we are playing for those who have died and those still battling cancer."
Gielner said McMahon made her and her teammates realize how lucky they are.
"If Sarah was still here fighting cancer, she would want us to fight just as hard as she did," Gielner said. "Sarah taught me that not everyday is guaranteed. The people you love can be taken away from us any given day. She has taught us that even on really hard days to stay strong and keep fighting."
The game is at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. It is played as part of Archbishop Spalding's mission to give back to the community, and the school has donated money raised at the event to the Susan G. Komen Foundation and other local groups. Last year, the game raised about $3,500, thought to be the most in the then five-year-history of the event.
Seton Keough has been the traditional opponent in this game for No. 10 Spalding (9-4), but the Gators were invited to play in an earlier tournament against the Cavaliers, and St. Mary's, 2-10, was invited to play this time.
"I hadn't heard of Archbishop Spalding playing this game before, but we are honored to play in it," Gielner said. "We are wearing pink in honor of breast cancer. However, on our senior night we are honoring Sarah by wearing orange."
Spalding coach Leslee Brady said the team originally chose to do this in support of cancer research because it is a good cause.
"But since then, we've also learned that everyone on your team has been touched by this disease," Brady said. "Either it has been in their own family or they know someone or have been touched by someone who has gone through it. It's everywhere."