Two Rivals Come Together To Support Community Members Affected by Cancer

Story by Colette Dreher, Staff Writer

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For the past nine years, both the Stonington and Waterford High School softball programs have come together to host Play 4 The Cure, a softball game in which all donations made at the game are given to various foundations to further cancer research and better the chances of finding a cure to end the diseases that affect so many members of the community. SHS head-coach Ann-Marie Houle said, “We get to go out there and play softball, but the people battling cancer are the real fighters. The game to me is to remind us what is really important in life- family and friends and our health.”

During May 7th’s Play 4 The Cure game, several families, friends, coaches, and other community members from both Stonington and Waterford, as well as other surrounding areas, were recognized and able to throw the game’s first few pitches to starting catchers Erin Craig (Stonington) and Alyson Sanford (Waterford). A few of the guests introduced were several of Madeline Guarraia’s family and friends. Guarraia was a 9-year old girl from East Lyme who passed away in 2016 after battling cancer for 5 years–surviving it twice–and receiving all kinds of treatments. Guarraia’s mother, brother, sister and five of her best friends got to throw pitches in her honor.

Another guest was Melissa Murray, mother of Dorian Murray of Westerly, Rhode Island, who had a wish to become famous around the world before he passed of terminal pediatric cancer. Murray succeeded with that wish, as people from all over the world including famous sports teams, celebrities, and large companies shared via the media their support using the hashtag #DStrong. Melissa threw one of the pitches with a smile on her face to honor her son.

There was also a guest there who not only was going to throw ceremonial pitches before the game, but would also start the first inning of the Play 4 The Cure game in uniform. Marissa Walker, a senior at Waterford High School, battled and survived cancer at the age of nine. Walker’s uncle, Andy Walker, is the head-coach of the Waterford Softball team, and the Walker family, including her older sister, Kazi, has been heavily involved in the softball program for many years. Walker inspires many as she continues to pitch after facing several surgeries and painful hospital visits due to the cancer in her leg. Walker recently received CIAC’s National Spirit of Sport Award, being recognized for her bravery on and off the field.

The game was widely attended with people showing immense support for the cause. There were decorations lining all of the fences such as balloons, posters, and cups stuck in the holes of the fences to spell various phrases. There were sections on the dugouts for photos of “Angels in the Outfield,” those who have passed away due to cancer, and “Angels Among Us,” those who have battled and survived, or those currently battling cancer.  

 

The game could not have been more entertaining for the crowd. The score was tied the whole game, being 3-3 from the 3rd to the 5th inning, and then 5-5 from the 5th inning all the way until Stonington scored on a walk-off in extra innings (8 innings rather than the normal 7). Sarah Flakus led the rally in the 8th inning after Stonington’s defense held Waterford to no runs. Flakus hit a hard ball passed the third basemen for a single. Freshman Shea O’Connor pinch-ran for Flakus to increase the speed on the base path in hopes of scoring. Colette Dreher bunted O’Connor over to scoring position and was safe at first base. Miranda Arruda finished the game with a double in the center-left gap, scoring O’Connor and sending the Bears over the top to win.

Houle added,“The goal was to have Colette bunt Shea into scoring position, but having Colette safe also gave us other options and less pressure for Miranda because there was only one out. I had a good feeling the whole game. I truly felt that the girls were prepared to win. I knew Miranda could get the ball through the infield to score Shea, who has great speed. I was excited and hopeful.”

The crowd went wild, the team celebrated at home plate, running up to both O’Connor and Arruda, tackling them, hitting their helmets, and sharing pure happiness. Pitcher and senior captain Trinity Lennon reflected on the game, saying, “I was so relieved and proud of us for digging deep and winning the game. I knew how much we all worked for this game so I was just really happy we won. I ran out and picked Shea up.”

The two teams continue to come together through a post-game celebration, in which both teams eat grinders, pasta salads, and desserts while talking about the game and creating friendships with players from another community. Houle noted that “it’s important to do the bonding afterward so we can see each other as more than rivals.” Lennon agreed, saying, “It’s a really unique experience because you come off a high intense game full of emotion and end the night just being normal high schoolers having a conversation.”

At the end of the day, win or lose, cancer seems to affect every single person in some way. Whether it’s a family member, a friend, a classmate, or a community member, cancer can take a tremendous toll on a town. Stonington and Waterford plan to continue showing their support for those who have battled and won, battled and lost, or are currently battling cancer. Playing for a cure is an honor for all players and coaches because it proves life is more than just a softball game.

 

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Two Rivals Come Together To Support Community Members Affected by Cancer