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VCHS Cancer Awareness Pink Game

Posted January 6, 2019 by in

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GSF All-Star Football Coach of the Month | Adhir Ravipati – Menlo-Atherton Bears

by: Pranav Iyer

Just a couple of years ago, Valley Christian girls head basketball coach Chris McSwain was getting ready to reveal the the sex of his incoming child to his family. This was a moment that was meant to be cherished and celebrated together, so his mother-in-law Leigh Grestoni made sure it stayed that way. Following the announcement, Grestoni took her daughter, Chris’ wife, out to lunch to deliver some unfortunate news. It was the news that no daughter wanted to hear; her mother had breast cancer. Heartbroken, Chris’ wife immediately texted him demanding that they talked soon. Together as a family, they discussed the situation at hand and how to go about it. Once the commotion subsided, Chris said they realized that they had to “lock in, be a support system for her.”

On Dec. 14, Leigh and Valley Christian came together for the second annual Pink Game. The event was put together by the cumulative effort of the boys and girls coaching staffs from both schools. With only eight miles separating the two schools, there is a lot of shared history between the two programs from the coaches all the way to the players’ families. Bobby Williams served under McSwain before he took over the girls head coaching role at Leigh recently. On the flipside, McSwain had also spent several years at Leigh before coming to Valley Christian. The two coaches on the boys side, Mark DeLuca from Valley Christian and Todd Baldwin from Leigh, are also good friends. Both have had numerous close ones affected by cancer and when Baldwin suggested starting the annual tradition, it just seemed like the perfect idea to DeLuca.

“Up in my office,” DeLuca said, “when coach Baldwin asked me if we wanted to do a Pink Game, he had no idea that my grandmother died of breast cancer. He had no idea that my best friend, Gary Garbado, a great coach, died at the age of 43 to cancer. Coach Todd and myself came up with this slogan between the two programs, ‘In this family, no one fights alone.’’

Before the double header of games at Valley Christian, there was a ceremony for the event in which the coaches spoke about the importance of the event and the reasons for the personal investment into the process. The big honoree of the night was no other than Grestoni herself. While in attendance, her story of resilience and triumph was elaborated by McSwain.

“I saw you fight,” McSwain said in front of the crowd before his team faced off against the Warriors. “I saw you go through all your struggles and battles, not only infusions, not only chemotherapy, not only just the agony mentally, but in the great name of Coach Valvano, you fought and you never gave up. And I just appreciate you so much. Leigh Grestoni, can you come out her please?”

After a joyous embrace between the two, McSwain proclaimed that Grestoni was cancer free and was responded with a roaring applause from the crowd. She was handed a basketball signed by the players from both schools, a gift she said she will cherish forever.

“I’m just so touched that everyone as a community,” Grestoni said. “Everyone comes together to support us. Because without you, the community, our family, our friends, you don’t get through it that well. I soared because of the community that surrounds me. I’m very blessed and this is for all the women out there who are in my situation and to know that there is support out there for you.”

During the ceremony, Baldwin also honored someone who has been a significant inspiration to him, Valley Christian guidance counselor Erik Ellefson. Baldwin spoke about Ellefson’s cancer fight, from when he was diagnosed with a three years to live to present day ten years later. He also stated that Ellefson’s doctor at UCSF mentioned that due to advances made in the cancer research field, Ellefson should expect an additional ten-year life expectancy.

And this is why all these coaches, players and families came together for this event. Their desire to spread knowledge about the topic and fundraise the research effort is what they believe will allow better lives for people like Ellefson and so many others around the world.

Baldwin ended his remarks with three lessons that he has learned from Ellefson’s fight with cancer: you’re never all alone, be thankful and don’t give up.

In addition to the coaches giving these speeches during pregame, each player also created a sign that read, ‘I play for ___,” with the blank being filled by a loved one they have lost or is currently enduring the effects of cancer.

The games that followed were both tightly-contested battles, but Valley Christian was able to prevail in both the boys and girls matchups. It was not the outcomes on the court that was what mattered to everyone in the stadium that night, however. Together, Valley Christian and Leigh transcended what was previously just a local rivalry and made into something so much more meaningful by honoring the courageous and actively working together to make a difference bigger than just basketball.


About the Author

Alforde Joaquin

ALF’s passion for shooting and editing has earned him several awards including an Edward R. Murrow Award in 2006 for Videography. He was also a nominee for the National Edward R. Murrow Award for Videography. A 6-time Emmy recipient for five different categories: Director/Producer, Videography, Editing, Feature Segment and Sound Mixing, Alf has produced over 1,000 video segments and is committed to developing GetSportsFocus as one of the best sports video magazine on the web.