Middle school goes pink for cancer fight

Kaitlin Sulek is confident breast cancer will be cured in 10 years. It's why we must keep raising money for research, the Mooresville Middle School seventh-grader said.

Kaitlin, 13, plays post on the Mooresville Middle girls' basketball team. Raising money for a cure is why she wore pink shoelaces, a pink shirt and pink hair bow to the boys' and girls' home basketball games against Southeast Middle from China Grove on Feb. 16.

Kaitlin joined about a thousand other students, parents and fans in turning the gym all pink that evening to raise about $2,000 for the Cary-based Kay Yow/Women's Basketball Coaches Association Cancer Fund.

Yow coached N.C. State University's women's basketball team for 34 years, won 737 games and became only the fifth woman to be enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. She battled breast cancer for 22 years and died at age 66 of the disease on Jan. 24, 2009.

Ann Clark, Mooresville Middle's athletic director, started the annual benefit at her school four years ago. Mooresville Turns It Pink is held during the national weeklong Hoops 4 Hope breast cancer awareness effort among basketball teams of all levels. The national effort also raises money for the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund.

"Her fight was inspirational not only to her players but to everyone," Clark said of Yow.

After Yow's death, "we decided we wanted to do something and make our kids aware of something bigger than they are, to show compassion, to care about something bigger than their world at Mooresville Middle School," Clark told me in her office before the start of the boys' game Feb. 16.

The event raises money for the nonprofit fund through the sale of T-shirts, ribbons and donor cards, plus admission minus expenses.

"This year, we sold 600 T-shirts to students, parents and others," Clark said. "We could have sold more if we had made more of them."

Fans were decked out in their finest pink, including male Mooresville Middle students such as Jack Coughlin, who wore a pink wig, pink socks, pink bandanas and pink Umbro soccer shorts. Riley Brisendine had pink hairspray on his head, while Demitrius Spury wore a pink wig, pink bandanas and pink shoelaces.

"This isn't about basketball," Clark told me. "This is about cancer awareness and school spirit."

And honoring those who've fought the disease, she said.

At halftime of the boys' game, Clark called to center court seven local women who'd fought the disease.

"Survivors: We are inspired and uplifted by your presence here today," Clark told the women. "You have shown all of us, especially these young people, how to battle and keep fighting an opponent in life that is tougher than any opponent they will face on the court."