When the Altoona and Hollidaysburg girls basketball teams hit the hardwood tonight, there will be much more than bragging rights riding on the ballgame.
The two teams are joining forces in a battle against breast cancer with their first "Pink for a Cure" game.
We've seen "pink" days at local universities and even in the NFL, and now the high schools are getting involved. It's another example of how sports can shine a light on important issues in our society.
"Everybody here and everyone I know has been affected in one way or another by cancer," Pro Active Sports manager Rob Bragonier said. "This event is something different and something the community can get involved with."
Pro Active, owed by cancer survivor Doug Rhodes, approached both teams with the "pink" idea during the offseason. The company is donating the uniforms (home pink for the Lady Mountain Lions, and pink-trimmed white uniform for the visiting Lady Tigers).
Pro Active also produced about 800 special fan T-shirts for the event; most have already been sold. All of the proceeds (more than $3,000 so far) will be donated to breast cancer research.
Altoona has been part of other cancer-fighting events, including a girls tennis match earlier in the year raising awareness about ovarian cancer. Now, in this basketball-crazed community, tonight's event promises to raise cancer consciousness even further.
"Our volleyball team had an event similar to this with Bishop Guilfoyle," Altoona head coach Craig Long said, "so the Hollidaysburg [basketball] idea came up and we figured we'd have a good crowd at the game anyway, and this would add a little more festivity to an already exciting event."
There are too many heroes of this event to list everyone: Long's players have rallied around the effort, selling the $5 T-shirts; Altoona teacher Meghan Bradley and the Maniacs pep club have jumped on board with unbridled enthusiasm, and Hungry Howie's Pizza is adding to its company's own cancer-fighting efforts, contributing pink pizza boxes for the halftime events.
Fans of the long-running rivalry may bleed maroon and white or navy and gold, but all will be tickled pink come tipoff.
"This is what athletics is all about," Altoona athletic director Phil Riccio said. "You're rivals on the floor and do all you can to win, but off the court, you are one team to support positive community actions. My vision is to expand this event. We're going to give back as much as we can when we can, and it's important for our student-athletes to be involved in paying it forward."
Hollidaysburg is looking forward to hosting the second annual Pink for a Cure game next year, and the Lady Tigers will be part of similar-themed game later this season at State College. But tonight's clash has special meaning and a special message.
"Hollidaysburg and Altoona are such tremendous rivals," Lady Tiger head Joe Hurd said. "But I think there will be more of a sense of camaraderie [this] evening because it goes beyond the competition and preparation you put into a game like that. There will be more perspective as to what is really important and that won't go away until the ball's tossed up, then we'll be right at each other."
The action on the court promises to be as intense as ever, but when the final buzzer sounds, both teams will be in the pink, knowing they contributed to a crucial battle, one that is much bigger than basketball.
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her column appears each Tuesday.