Tennis helped Crystal Hamilton get through the pain and suffering during a bout with breast cancer a decade ago.
The friends and players she’s met and coached along the way decided to celebrate that anniversary.
On Oct. 1, Community School of Davidson’s and Hough’s girls’ tennis teams turned their regular-season, nonconference match into a “Pink Out” match in honor of Hamilton, who coached at CSD for six years before stepping down at the end of the 2013 season.
All of CSD’s and Hough’s players, even Huskies coach Alice Hansen and many of the parents attending, wore pink clothing: tops, skirts, wristbands, headbands, socks or shoes. Even Hamilton, who didn’t know the “Pink Out” had been planned, showed up wearing – of course – pink.
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“Lots of pink. I had no idea there’d be a sea of pink,” Hamilton said. “That’s very cool.
“I’m a 10-year breast cancer survivor, I was diagnosed in May 2004. Part of me hates to say that, because you’re scared to death that it’s going to creep on back.”
Hamilton coached Community School of Davidson’s tennis teams for six years before she stepped down after her son, Zach, graduated from CSD in the spring of 2014.
Hamilton also plays on several U.S. Tennis Association club teams based out of Davidson’s River Run Country Club, twice playing with teams that advanced to the USTA Nationals.
That’s where Hamilton met Hough tennis coach Alice Hansen. They were teammates on several of River Run’s USTA teams.
“When she and I first started playing together, I was a stay-at-home mom,” Hansen said. “Crystal’s an amazing person.”
Hamilton continued playing tennis even after her cancer diagnosis, after surgery, and during her chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
“I had six months of chemo and 33 radiation treatments,” Hamilton said. “For a year there, it was pretty stinky. But I love tennis. I’m a tennis player, and I played throughout that time.
“It was tough. I felt horrible sometimes while playing that I just stood there and held a racket. But my doubles partner at the time, Zelda Frowine, said that even if I was playing with one arm and one leg, she’d still be my doubles partner. Tennis was a big reason I got through it, that and my faith. I’m a Christian, and God’s help helped me through it. It wasn’t me.”
Under Hamilton’s coaching, Community School of Davidson twice qualified for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A dual-team playoffs. In her last year as coach, two of her players – Courtney Mudge and Marisa Deininger – advanced to the finals of the NCHSAA 1A state singles tournament, with Mudge emerging as state champion.
Yet CSD and Hough – separated by 4.4 miles – never faced each other on the tennis court until after Hamilton retired.
“Every once in a while, I’d see her while she was coaching at CSD, and we always kinda wanted to schedule a match, but it never worked out,” Hansen said. “This year, we came up with it.”
With the month of October considered Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it was CSD tennis player Meghan O’Brien that came up with the idea of making it a “Pink Out” match.
“I got in touch with Alice, and we set up the match,” said Meghan’s father Sean O’Brien, who took over for Hamilton as CSD’s tennis coach. “We knew Crystal was going to be there, just to see the match … so she said ‘You know what would be really cool? If everybody was wearing pink.’ So I reached out to Coach Hansen.”
O’Brien and Hansen are talking about making the CSD-Hough match an annual fixture on the team’s schedules, and potentially even turning it into a fundraising event for cancer research.
“At Hough, we already have a breast cancer awareness week, where everybody wears pink,” Hansen said. “We even made T-shirts last year that the girls wore. We could get people doing something like that, it would just be a matter of getting it organized.”