With the sultry smell of homemade chili wafting through Art Smith Arena, too many half-eaten bags of baked goods to count and a jam-packed crowd of fans dressed in Angel Wings t-shirts, it’s safe to say that Alma College’s Pink Day was a success.
It was the fifth-consecutive season that the Scots’ women’s basketball team has hosted Pink Day – to support children who have lost a parent to cancer through the Angel Wings Fund – and though each time has surely been special, Saturday’s installment, during Alma’s game against Olivet, carried with it a little extra emotion, as it was the first without former coach Keisha Brown, who succumbed in her fight with the disease last April.
“Keisha spent a lot of time here, and the girls and Alma [College] itself were always here for her,” said Brown’s husband, Damon, who brought the crowd to its feet with an emotional speech at halftime. “So it’s great to come back today and see all the Angel Wings logos and all the support that they still have for her.”
The Scots certainly went above and beyond in their support for their former coach, selling baked goods and t-shirts, and having a chili cook-off and raffle with all the proceeds being donated to the Angel Wing Fund, which has raised over $90,000 since Keisha and her family first decided to start helping children whose parents have fallen victim to the disease seven years ago.
“We knew it was going to be an emotional day,” remarked Alma head coach Kris Johnson after the game. “I’m very proud of how it all came together. The love is abundant and it shows, it was a great day.”
Though the Scots fell to Olivet, 78-69, the result of the game didn’t matter as much as the energy and passion of which Alma College played in a performance dedicated to Brown. A team that has a tendency to fall into the trap of passivity, the Scots came out fired up and played with immense hunger from the opening tip on.
They knew coming in that they had a massive size disadvantage down low, but played with a ferocious intensity in slowing down the Comet’s star Stefanie Lang, who was forced to sit for much of the first half as she got into foul trouble.
With Lang on the bench, the Scots attacked with fervor, executing their game plan perfectly as they built an impressive five-point lead, 37-32, at halftime.
“We got Lang in foul trouble right away so that helped a lot, and we made shots, executed our offense, played great defense and rebounded the ball,” said Johnson about what went right during the first half. “And we’ve been talking about the energy that we need to have during practice and I was very proud of our energy throughout the entire game. You are going to go through some ups and downs over the course of a game, but you have to maintain your energy throughout and I thought we did a good job of that today.”
Unfortunately, while the Scots continued to play with intense energy, they were unable to sustain their high level of production into the second half. With Lang back on the floor, Alma’s defense was forced to key their efforts on stopping her and in doing so, the other Comets’ players began finding more room to attack. Bre Kidd and Carli Reid especially benefited from the extra attention going Lang’s way as they combined for 24 points in the game on a very efficient nine-for-14 shooting.
But while Olivet’s offense did pick up, what really sunk Alma in the second stanza was a lack of offense on its own side. The Scots were still squarely in the game as Morgan Henry sank two free throws to cut the Comet’s lead to two, 65-63, with 8:20 to play, but from that point on they could not have gone more cold from the field. In fact, Alma scored just six points over the final eight minutes of action as Olivet surged back ahead and held on for the 78-69 win.
“It was a great effort,” remarked Johnson. “We just couldn’t get it done at the end. We didn’t get stops and we didn’t score so that was the difference.”
Leading the way for Alma was Raeanna Zink who came off the bench to pour in a team-high 21 points on seven-of-12 shooting. Henry also played well with 12 points while Mallory Pruett chipped in with five points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Despite the loss, no one in the building really left unhappy, as it was clear that the day was about much more than a trivial basketball game, it was a celebration of the life and legacy of a coach who left a lasting impact on each and every one of her players.
“I think every game of the year we play for coach Brown, but this one is nice to be able to dedicate it to her specifically,” said Henry. “To see the school rally around her was special, because she made an impact, not only on our team, but on the administrators and school as a whole, so it’s nice to see.”
During halftime, Henry, along with Pruett, were presented with a surprise, as Damon Brown cordially invited the two to be honorary members of the Angel Wings Fund.
“It’s a huge honor,” remarked Pruett. “We’ve been close with coach Brown for the past three years and for Damon to nominate us, you can’t even put it in to words how much it means.”
“It was totally unexpected,” Henry added. “It was a nice surprise and honor to be recognized by her family, because she made such an impact on us.”
Through the Pink Day effort, Alma College was able to raise over $2,100 in support of the Angel Wing Fund. But while the donation will in no doubt help many children who have lost a parent to cancer, what was most special about the occasion was that coach Brown, while maybe in spirit, got to spend one more game coaching the girls she loved.
“[Alma College] meant the world to Keisha,” remarked Damon Brown. “Going through that last year of her life with all the surgeries and the transportations back-and-forth from Chicago, the girls were always here for her. It provided her with a lot of motivation and inspiration to get up each day and get on the road to come to Alma to be with her girls. She loved them very much and they loved her in return, so I couldn’t think of a better group of girls to spend the last year of her life with.”
He continued, “This event means a lot to me and my family. It shows that it was more than just basketball. They cared for Keisha as a person and more than that they loved her and she loved them the same. It’s a great relationship and I hope to come back in the future to continue her legacy here at Alma College.”
(This article was written by Paul Kenneth Beroza and was originally found here: http://www.themorningsun.com/sports/20150207/the-power-of-pink-scots-host-fifth-annual-pink-day)