AACS sets bar 'quite high' for third annual Pink Out
When Grace Mercer initiated a Pink Out game for her Annapolis Area Christian School basketball program two years ago, she was pleased with the $780 raised that night for breast cancer research.
Last winter, after Mercer graduated, her teammates wanted to keep the Pink Out going, so they teamed with nearby Key School to try to raise a little bit more than that.
Instead, they raised a whole lot more. The schools, two of the smallest in the area, they brought in more than $12,000.
The Eagles, along with new partners Chapelgate and Greater Grace, aim to raise another $10,000 with their third annual Pink Out on Friday night.
"We set the bar quite high," Eagles coach Jim Domoracki said with a laugh, "but I'd rather have it high and fall short than set it low and not have the kids really work for it."
Mercer, now a sophomore at Dallas Baptist University in Texas, will fly home Friday for the Pink Out. Last year, she was amazed at how much it had grown.
"I had no idea it would turn into this," she said. "I'm really proud of them. It showed a lot of their growth and maturity over the high school years."
The AACS Pink Out began as part of Mercer's senior practicum, a theme she chose because her mother, Annie Mercer, is a breast cancer survivor. That also motivates many of the other athletes who get involved.
"One of the things that makes this event really special is that most kids know someone — in fact, all of our kids know someone because we have teachers and staff members who have been affected by breast cancer in the last two years — and they all feel a personal connection to this cause in particular," Key School athletic director Brian Boyd said. "There's something about seeing the impact firsthand and knowing you're going to be able to do something to help make a difference in that. It was really great for our kids."
Domoracki said the Pink Out is entirely student-driven. Players on all the teams organize everything, sell T-shirts and generate support for the game, which drew a packed house last year. They also have a Free-Throw-A-Thon, with each girl taking pledges for each of the 20 free throws she shoots.
The coach, however, came up with a surefire plan to sell more T-shirts — every AACS student who buys one can ditch the school uniform for a day and wear jeans to school.
"All our friends and family want to come out and support us," said Sam Domoracki, a junior captain and the coach's daughter. "I never thought we could raise $12,000. For a school like ours to raise over $12,000 for one cause, I think is awesome."
Last year, about a dozen breast cancer survivors attended the game, and each signed a pink basketball later donated to the Gaeton and JoAnn DeCesaris Cancer Institute at the Anne Arundel Medical Center along with $12,189. That's from two schools with a combined enrollment from pre-K through Grade 12 of about 1,580 students.
Dr. Barry Meisenberg, director of the DeCesaris Institute, said that while every contribution is significant, the one made by AACS and Key School was "extraordinary."
"What's also extraordinary about this is that for young people to be interested and concerned about an issue like this indicates a great deal of maturity," he said. "To recognize that there are people with needs and major challenges beyond what they face in high school, I think is very unusual and really should be commended. I hope for them it translates into a lifetime of caring for other people."
All of the donated money remains in the community, Meisenberg said, and goes toward patient care as well as breast cancer research.
Raising that kind of money at a small school isn't easy. Many schools host pink-themed breast cancer awareness events but don't raise anywhere near that amount of money. This year's three participants total about 1,450 students.
"Our goal from the beginning is always to get better," Eagles senior captain Christina Piccioni said. "We want this not to be just a regular thing. Raising $700, any school can do that. We wanted to make a statement and by having such an impact, more people were involved last year than the first year. I don't think we made T-shirts and we didn't promote it as well the first year. It's about being bigger and better each year."
Boyd said last year's Pink Out "was a fantastic experience from start to finish," but that Key took this year off because it's difficult for a school with 700 students to support such an event annually in this economic climate and with other school fundraisers.
Chapelgate coach Lauren Ahrens and Greater Grace coach Jen Lynch said they jumped at the chance to partner with Annapolis Area this winter.
"It gets the kids involved in raising money for something bigger than they are," Ahrens said. "It's a cause close to a lot of people nowadays."
This year's lineup features the Eagles vs. Chapelgate in the varsity game Friday at 7:30 p.m. Before that, the Eagles junior varsity and middle school teams will take on Greater Grace.
Jim Domoracki said he will have all breast cancer survivors in attendance sign the pink basketball, but this time it will go into the Eagles' trophy case. He plans to write the three-year total of funds raised on that ball.
For Annie Mercer, who will be in the stands Friday night, that number and the effort behind it means a lot.
"It's a good thing because it also helps to bring awareness to the youngest of the kids," she said. "We don't know when they may be faced with a parent, an aunt, a cousin or other family member having breast cancer. When it happens, they're not totally shocked by the words breast cancer and they're like, 'Oh, we've been raising money to help support breast cancer,' and hopefully someday we will have a cure just as a result of people that come together and do things like this and support it financially."