Of all the things you may have seen at a Panas volleyball match last month — exceptional play, a lively crowd, an in-game public address announcer — one thing you didn’t find was the Panthers wearing pink.
While many schools hold “Dig Pink” or “Volley for a Cure” matches in support of Breast Cancer Awareness, the Panthers have raised funds for the Lustgarten Foundation the past two years, an organization that raises awareness for pancreatic cancer research, after the disease hit close to home, when sophomore Lauren Feeley lost her father Mark in March 2013 at the age of 50.
“Knowing Lauren since she’s 12, and being her (club) coach at the time of her father’s passing … I kind of pitched it to her mom first,” Panas head coach Joe Felipe said. “It wasn’t just as if her father had passed away from (pancreatic cancer), but they were pretty active — doing the walks and trying to raise money for awareness and research.”
Feeley was at former teammate Katie Roche’s house for a pasta party with the team when Felipe pitched the idea of turning the Panther Invitation Tournament’s fundraising focus towards the Lustgarten Foundation.
“It was shocking, but it was incredible,” she said, noting that Felipe wanted her permission before making an executive decision. “It was so overwhelming, so I actually ended up crying, but it was just incredible to know how much everyone cares about me and how much it’s impacted not just me, but my team as a whole.”
The past two seasons have raised $2,000 each year, mostly from t-shirt sales. When Panas won this year’s Panther Invitational tournament on Oct. 24, Feeley was a unanimous all-tournament team selection by the committee.
“It’s more of a personal connection,” Feeley said of playing in the tournament, which is one of six the Panthers participate in each year. “I’ve never really experienced something like that.”
“I was pleasantly shocked,” said Cristabel Feeley, Lauren’s mother. “I just was sitting there watching during the playoffs and she just came alive.
“It’s so nice to have her be recognized, during that tournament especially.”
Feeley was a unanimous pick with her teammates, too.
“I was so happy for her,” Panas junior Julianna Bottarini said. “I was saying, ‘If Lauren doesn’t get an award, there’s going to be a problem.’ ”
Three Panas players — Bottarini, Sabrina Patriciello, and Demi Spanos — were on Feeley’s club team when her father passed.
Feeley joined the club team, a 13-and-under roster, when it won a weekend tournament in Albany against a 14-and-under field days after her father died. The team signed a card for Feeley before the match, then swarmed in a circle around her after the final point.
“We normally have a (club) tournament on the day that her father passed away, so that’s always really hard for her to go and play volleyball,” Spanos said, but we’re always there supporting her.”
Years later, Feeley’s courage continues to impress her elder teammates at Panas.
“She’s the strongest person on the team,” Bottarini said. “She can fight through anything.”
Feeley said Felipe has been “like a father figure” to her, and has been taken aback by the team’s support.
“I didn’t realize how much everyone knew about it and how much they cared and how much it had affected them as much as it affected me,” she said. “It’s so great to have the support of so many caring people and families.”
Panas (15-1), currently the second-ranked team in the state, will host Ossining in the Section 1 Class A quarterfinals Nov. 2 at 4:30 p.m.