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St. Ignace girls basketball inspired by a surprise visit

The initial plan was to get away from the girls tournament as quickly as possible because we just had what appeared to be an official possibly cheating a team out of a spot in the quarterfinals, one girl throw a punch in a state championship game and not be ejected, and a coach come under fire for the public recruitment of an eighth-grader through social media.

Is girls basketball becoming boys basketball?

But then you meet Lisa Syrjala and listen to Sarah Cullip tell you about another Breslin Center, and everything changes.

It all began in the tiny town of St. Ignace, just across the Mackinac Bridge, where Dorene Ingalls and her husband, Doug, are so much more than simply basketball coaches.

"One of our main things we do is a Hooping for a Cure game," said Dorene, the girls coach. "Over the last five years, we've raised over $60,000 for our oncology department at Mackinac Straits."

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This year's game raised over $16,000 and during the game, Dr. Edward Smith, an oncologist with the Mackinac Straits Health System, told the players and fans about the other Breslin Center.

Dr. Smith was talking about the Breslin Cancer Center.

"We said right then, win or lose, whether we're in the finals or not, we're going there," said Dorene, whose team was ranked No. 1 in Class D. "We usually go down as a team, anyway, and we said we'd bring our pink shirts."

So after winning Thursday's semifinal game, the Ingallses took the entourage and headed for the other Breslin Center, and that is when destiny took over.

"We went the wrong way and ended up going to the visitor's side and went backwards," Dorene said. "It was one of those things where you were in the exact spot where you were supposed to be in the manner of time."

There could be up to 24 patients in the area the Saints first visited, but there were 16 there Friday and the team brought along exactly 16 Hooping for a Cure towels to give to patients.

And this was no drive-by visit for the team. They were there for 90 minutes and spoke to several of the resident patients who suddenly had a rooting interest in Saturday's Class D championship game.

"We visited them, and they said they'd be watching," Cullip said. "Just to be an inspiration to them is an inspiration to us."

The last place they stopped was supposed to be their first stop. It was the infusion room where out-patients receive chemotherapy treatments.

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A staffer went into the room and there was only one patient. She explained to the patient that there was a team there for the finals and she wanted to know if the girls could come in and meet her.

The St. Ignace players and coaches were standing outside when they heard the patient say:

"Well, my team is here for the state finals. I'm from St. Ignace. I might not know the girls, but I know the coaches."

The Ingallses looked at each other in amazement and it turns out the patient was Syrjala, whose son, Michael, played for Doug, the boys coach and the girls assistant, and graduated in 2005.

Syrjala, 47, moved to Lansing five years ago and was diagnosed with breast cancer on Sept. 25, 2012.

She had surgery and Friday had her last chemo treatment. She will begin radiation treatments in a couple of weeks.

"Chemo is bad," said Syrjala, who is also battling diabetes and multiple sclerosis. "Chemo really sucks."

But it probably got a lot better when the St. Ignace contingent barged through the door to meet another Yooper.

"It touched my heart," she said.

Doug whipped out a couple of tickets and said if there was any way possible, they would be honored if she could make the championship game.

The day after a chemo treatment is not a particularly good day for Syrjala, but there was only one place in the world she was going to be Saturday morning.

"It was rough; those stairs are rough," she said as she settled into her seat directly behind the St. Ignace bench. "But I wasn't going to miss this game."

Within moments of the final horn sounding to end the 59-44 victory, every St. Ignace player raced to the stands to hug their most special fan.

"It was really cool," Syrjala said. "For them to win and come up and hug me and say they won it for me was special."

And it was special for the players at St. Ignace, who are so fortunate to play for a couple of coaches who realize basketball is just a game and their mission in life is to help their players become women who can change the world.

"I don't think a lot of people know there are two Breslin Centers," Cullip said. "One is a gym full of great memories with two teams battling to be at the top. The other Breslin Center has some of people's worst memories and they're battling for their lives.

"You have to remember what is important."

Now we can move on to the boys quarterfinals.

Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or mmccabe@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.

 

http://usatodayhss.com/2013/03/18/st-ignace-girls-basketball-inspired-by-a-surprise-visit/
St. Ignace girls basketball inspired by a surprise visit
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