Janet DiStasio, the library media specialist at Archbishop Spalding, barely hung up the phone before bursting into tears. Christina Mohs, the faculty mentor and supplemental instruction instructor for English and Communications at Anne Arundel Community College, was so touched when she received a call from Seton Keough that she couldn't wait an hour before e-mailing the school to thank its field hockey team for the inspirational boost.
Both women have breast cancer and will serve as honorary captains for their respective teams today in the Play 4 The Cure field hockey game between the schools that will raise money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
"Last year, at this time, I was undergoing chemo treatments," DiStasio said in an e-mail. "The Spalding community was wonderful to me. I am so blessed. So many supported me as I struggled through the horrors of cancer. I still suffer from some side effects of the chemo, but I am in remission and each day I do get stronger. And now I've been given this honor."
The emotion is much the same for Mohs, whose first teaching job was at Seton Keough. Her friend Debbie Nieves sponsored her name on a jersey for today's 7 p.m. game.
"I am currently preparing for surgery to deal with my breast cancer," Mohs said. "This was one of the most beautiful gifts anyone has given me. They asked if I'd pose with the girls for a picture, and I'm OK with it, as long as I don't have to say anything — I'm more than a little worried about crying! But I am just so touched by the girls' selfless dedication to the cause. I think they deserve to see those women whose lives they are touching."
The varsity game will be played on Spalding's turf field. The teams will be playing with pink balls and pink wristbands. The Spalding girls are selling sponsorships to have the names of those who have or had the disease honored with their names written on pink balloons around the field, while the Keough team is selling a place of honor on the back of their jerseys. Together the teams are sponsoring a post-game tailgate party to which more than 100 tickets have already been sold.
"This is why we do this fundraiser," said Spalding coach Leslee Brady, referring to the reactions of the two honorary captains. "I think everyone is touched by someone with this disease. Two of our players have lost parents to cancer. For women, breast cancer is a hot button, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation is an excellent organization."
The game to benefit the foundation has been going on for three years, since Brady's youngest daughter, Maureen Doran, 25, started working as the assistant coach at Seton Keough. Brady's oldest daughter, Kat Nepp, 30, is Brady's assistant coach at Spalding. In prior years, the game raised from $500 to $1,000 each year. This year, the teams anticipate raising more than $2,000.
"I have to give Spalding credit," Doran said. "My mom and her coaching staff came up with the idea. They wanted to find a service project for their team, and here at Keough the girls do a service project every year and this has been the perfect fit.
"The girls have made pink jerseys and asked for sponsors to put someone's name on the back of the jersey. The names are in memory of those who had the disease and lost the battle or in honor of those who have it and are fighting it."
Doran said Keough has already raised $1,000 with the project and said she didn't believe getting sponsors would be as easy as it has been.
"When we asked the girls to get the jersey sponsors, I was amazed by the number of names that were immediately known," Doran said. "They all seemed to know someone — a grandparent, a neighbor, an immediate family member. This game has a very personal touch. I don't know if awareness is greater, but more and more young kids seem to be touched by this disease."
Learning to give back to the community is a big part of the field hockey program at the two schools, and a key element in both the coaching and life philosophies of Brady and Keough coach Tom Jester.
"The primary goal of field hockey at Spalding is not winning," Brady said. "I tell them at the start of each year our goal is threefold: Make yourself better, make your team better, make the game better."
"Leslee is a legend in my mind," Jester said. "She exudes confidence and her daughters are the same way. Our philosophies are similar: education, family, God and sports. While both teams will want to win today, the positive is at the end we will all come together at the tailgate party for dinner and [to] celebrate."
While the game should be competitive with the two Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland teams having good seasons — A Conference Spalding is 6-2-1, and B Conference Seton Keough is 8-1 — the Brady women say more is at stake.
"My mom has always been about more than just the game," said Nepp, who now acts as a co-coach on the sideline but still calls Brady "Mom" most of the time. "She's about preparing young women for the outside world. And my sister and I talk every third day. We're more support for each other than anything else."
"I love my mother and sister," she said. "They want to win this game, and we want to win this game. There's no perfect outcome for us. But we're all hoping for the perfect off-field outcome: that we get a lot of attendees and raise a lot of money for a very good cause."