One in Eight
One in eight women will be affected by breast cancer in her lifetime. In a softball tournament that features 1,000 girls, that means that likely out of the 125 girls playing in the tournament, she or someone she knows playing will have breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. Because of this, the Pink Breast Cancer Awareness Tournament was established.
In its 14th year this season, 74 teams came out for the tournament hosted over the first weekend of September. Though the final fundraising numbers are still being tallied, throughout the tournament’s history more than $803,000 has been raised and donated to local charities.
The tournament supports Susan G. Komen of Central and South Jersey and the Breast Cancer Resource Center YWCA Princeton.
“It’s important that both of these charities receive our fundraising because they do so much for the local communities,” said tournament director Tara Lavin.
Grow the Game to Grow the Awareness
In the first tournament, Lavin was a player in what was for adult participants only. Now it is a youth fast-pitch tournament featuring girls ages 8-18.
Top teams and individual fundraisers earn prizes that are donated by local sponsors, ranging from softball clinics for younger teams and tournament entry fees for the older teams, but the prizes aren’t really why they participate. Lavin says that the real goal is to engage with local girls, and empower them to use the sport that they love to make a difference.
“One of our main goals is to have the girls actively engaged in both spreading awareness and fundraising,” Lavin said. “Many teams take that commitment very seriously. I coach a team that has been involved in the tournament for 14 years. And there are other teams that have been involved from the beginning, who often win the fundraising contests.”
That isn’t to say that the event is without its challenges. Lavin and a team of 20 volunteers organize the entire thing from the ground up year after year, meeting multiple times monthly throughout the whole year. During the tournament weekend, an additional 20 volunteers help on-site across the various local fields that the Pink tournament uses.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without our volunteers,” Lavin said.
In the first year of the event, when Lavin was a player, the tournament raised and donated $8,900. In 2015, the tournament had its highest one-year total, raising and donating $100,000. Perhaps the most moving statistic comes from last year’s tournament, which was rained out, but still raised nearly $67,000.
“78 teams didn’t even play an inning or get in a dugout but they raised that much money for breast cancer,” Lavin said. “We think that’s just absolutely phenomenal.”
While softball is important to everyone who participates, and the money signals a tangible impact, the most moving part of the weekend comes before a single pitch has been thrown or bat swung: it’s the annual breast cancer survivor first pitch ceremony.
“We ask the teams if they have someone specific that they are playing for, and just given the statistics, many of them do,” Lavin said. “Those special men and women are invited to join us and they throw a first pitch alongside representatives from Komen and the Resource Center.”
Players who know the affected survivor will usually catch the first pitch. One father is a two-time breast cancer survivor, and every year he and his wife take the field to speak briefly to the girls.
“It’s quick, but it is so powerful,” Lavin said. “It’s very uplifting and empowering to see these survivors there. The girls get a raise from the men and women because they are supporting them. It’s very emotional for the survivors and they are so thankful that the girls are out there doing this for them."
You can learn more and support Pink Ribbon Softball on their site, pinkribbonsoftball.org, or by finding them on social media @pinkribbonsoftball.