On Oct. 18, the Cheshire Academy field hockey team warmed up to play Marianapolis Prep like they would for any other home game; however, before the starting whistle sounded, the Cats took a break for a ceremony focused on recognizing people who had overcome a much tougher battle than any fought on a turf field.
For their Pink Game to benefit the Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven, CA started the event with a survivor’s walk in which players and coaches were able to come out onto the field with a person who had beaten cancer.
“It was really emotional. I’ve seen them (survivor walks) before, but that was the first time I’ve participated in one,” said Head Coach Melanie Dexter, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. “My mom had come up from Florida, so she was able to participate in that, too. It was great to have that moment of solidarity where everyone is playing for each other.”
“It was a really special and overwhelming experience to recognize what they (the survivors) have been through,” added senior Riley Norwood, a quad-captain with seniors Liv Redding and Julia Williamson and junior Sarah Greenberg. “It was one of the most special things that I’ve organized.”
Wearing pink shirts, socks, and more, the Cats used emotion from the ceremony to fuel a 1-0 victory. Paige Bernier tallied the game-winner on a pass from Greenberg in the second half and Redding picked up the shutout in goal.
“It was super awesome for me,” reflected Norwood. “We have a lot of players who have had a family member or friend affected by cancer, so it was great to get to play for them. We got a big crowd, too with the football team coming out to support us.”
While celebrating the win, the Cats felt that their bigger victory was raising money and awareness for the Smilow Cancer Hospital. With CA Headmaster Julie Anderson matching the team’s fundraising total, the girls and coaches raised $1,600.
“I’m astounded that we were able to raise that money in a week,” stated Dexter. “That fact, that we were able to support cancer research and treatment (at Smilow), is amazing.”
The Cats traditionally have an October activity to mark breast cancer awareness month, but in her second year as head coach, Dexter wanted to do something special in honor of family and friends who have overcome the disease.
Since Norwood had volunteered with Smilow over the summer, the CA team decided to raise money for them. For her first hospital project, Norwood made keychains out of paracord rope and sold them for $5 each.
While traveling for summer softball games, she recalls having people help her make the chains on an assembly line, of sorts. Overall, Norwood made 200 to 250 chains.
“I put the word out on Facebook and didn’t expect it to blow up the way it did. I ended up raising $1,500,” reflected Norwood.
With Smilow recognized as one of the nation’s leading cancer research and care hospitals, Norwood enjoyed being able to contribute to their efforts.
“Knowing what they (cancer patients) go through makes it more special,” stated Norwood.
In returning to CA this fall, Norwood helped her field hockey team plan their Pink Game. The Cats traditionally wear pink apparel and create posters, but on the suggestion of Dexter, they decided to make breast cancer ribbons and sell them at lunch prior to the event. On the ribbons, people could write down the name of an individual or a personal message as their inspiration for playing or coaching in the game, as well as their motivation for fighting cancer.
“At our field, we have netting to keep balls from going in the woods, so we set up the ribbons on there. We had about 200,” said Norwood.
“I’m really proud of the team for giving up their free time to make the posters and ribbons,” added Dexter. “I think that (dedication) is why we were so successful (with the fundraiser).”
For a raffle at halftime of the Pink Game, the players went out into the Cheshire community to get gift cards from Cheshire Pizza & Ale, Dunkin’, Subway, and The Bean Coffee Roasters. The Cats also received private donations locally.
“We got a lot of support from the community and Cheshire Academy,” said Dexter.
In volunteering to fight cancer and shutting out Marianapolis Prep 1-0 in the Pink Game, Dexter was pleased with how the fundraiser turned out. Beyond wins and losses, she puts an emphasis on developing players who care about each other and want to give back to their community.
“I love that this team is a family. We didn’t have the best record this year, but our team never got down on anyone,” explained Dexter. “The girls support each other and work together. That is all you can ask for as a coach.”
Norwood, who played volleyball as a freshman and sophomore, credits her teammates for helping her learn to play field hockey last year.
“They are all super helpful to make it easier for people to pick up the sport,” explained Norwood. “I had the opportunity this year to help new girls on the team. It gave me great perspective because I was in their shoes last year.”
While only playing for two years, it was hard for Norwood to play her last field hockey game this fall. She is now training to play softball next spring and then transition to competing at Mount Saint Mary College (New York).
“It is definitely not easy to say goodbye to teammates. I didn’t think the time would come that I would play my final field hockey game,” said Norwood. “During the season, it feels like I have 18 sisters. All of the girls are so close-knit.”
Dexter has formed close bonds with senior classmates Norwood, Redding, Jenna Hains, and Williamson.
“Riley and Julia only played for two years, while Jenna and Liv have been playing for a long time. They are all great kids and we are sad to see them go,” stated Dexter.