Bailie Cross isn’t sure, anymore, where she saw it.
But she knows she told her coach about it.
In 2017, Cross was a senior right-side hitter for the Caledonia High School volleyball team, she first came across the Side-Out Foundation’s Dig Pink programs, which raise funds for breast cancer awareness through volleyball. She told coach Samantha Brooks, who was intrigued. The coach’s search for an opponent led to Lowndes County rival New Hope, and Trojans coach Allison Woolbright agreed to play the very first Dig Pink Game on Oct. 12 at Caledonia.
The players wore pink, raised money and just had a good time, Cross remembered.
“It just helped all of us realize that we were playing for a much bigger thing than just to have fun,” she said. “We had more of a reason, more of a meaning to do what we were doing.”
Since that game, New Hope and Caledonia have traded off hosting the Dig Pink Game every October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This year’s matchup — at 6:30 p.m. at New Hope — is the latest installment of what has already become an annual fixture for the two schools.
“Every year it’s just gotten kind of bigger and better,” Brooks said.
Combined, Caledonia and New Hope have raised over $10,000 in three years of Dig Pink contests, and Thursday’s games will add to that total. Middle school teams play at 4:30 p.m., junior varsity takes the court at 5:30 p.m., and varsity competes at 6:30 p.m.
There will be a raffle ($2 to enter) for more than 50 items, including gift cards to Cafe on Main, Caledonia Nutrition, Allegro MedSpa and more local businesses. Pink paper volleyballs can be purchased to honor or memorialize those who have battled breast cancer. The Kona Ice food truck will be in the New Hope parking lot to feed attendees.
Besides ticket sales, all proceeds from the event — including concession sales — will go to the Side-Out Foundation, established by a high school volleyball coach in Virginia who lost his mother to metastatic breast cancer in 2010.
“A side-out in volleyball is getting possession of the ball back,” Brooks said. “Well, the Side-Out Foundation is getting possession of your life back after cancer. It’s really a neat and unique and personal thing for us that we’re really proud to participate in.”
Both teams said they look forward to the contest every year — for many, it’s because of the personal stakes of the disease. Caledonia’s Taylor Fletcher has an aunt battling breast cancer; Woolbright’s grandmother, aunt, cousin, friends and coworkers have faced the disease.
“It affects so many people that almost everyone knows someone who has been impacted by it,” Woolbright said. “It is a very dear cause to me personally.”
Brooks said she feels fortunate that she and her players haven’t personally suffered from breast cancer. She also said the team is lucky not to have its season affected by the COVID-19 pandemic so far.
“We have been blessed for so many reasons, and so that kind of gives us a sense of, ‘We should give back. We should do something,'” Brooks said.
Enter Dig Pink, a tradition Caledonia has embraced completely in its infancy. The school has raised $7,300 over the past three years, according to Brooks.
Cross said that wasn’t what she expected when she first raised the possibility of hosting the event back in 2017.
“Oh, maybe we’ll raise a few hundred dollars,” she thought. “Maybe we’ll just help spread awareness for it or at least have a fun time doing it.”
Instead, it became a yearly tradition, something Cross was happy to see.
“Having that annual tradition, I think, raises a lot of awareness — just makes a lot of people look forward to something,” Cross said.
Not only that, but it offers an opportunity for Caledonia and New Hope to do good in their community, both head coaches said.
“We’re trying to raise these girls and teach these players that sometimes there’s a lot of things more important than just a ballgame,” Woolbright said.
Doing that through their sport of choice is an added bonus, according to Brooks.
“I feel like it’s important for coaches to provide opportunities for players to be able to give back, and this one is so cool because it’s through something we love: volleyball,” she said.
The nature of Thursday’s matchup should be enough of a reason to attend, too. Both teams reached the state final four last fall for the first time in their respective schools’ history, and they’re formidable opponents on the court.
“The last two years, they’ve been especially strong,” Brooks said of New Hope. “It is absolutely essential to play teams like them to be prepared for the playoffs.”
Cross, who played with many a Trojan in her days with Level Elite club volleyball, remembers that players from each school would joke around about who would win, but there was an added layer with Dig Pink.
“We all knew that we were doing something much better than just playing each other and seeing who was going to come out with the win, so that was really nice,” Cross said.
Three years later, the feeling is the same. Cross’s cousins, Ella and Emily Clark, play for Caledonia’s varsity team; through them, Cross maintains her connection to the team and to the event that might never have happened without her intervention.
“To see those girls continue on doing what they’re doing is just incredible, honestly,” Cross said. “It makes me feel really happy.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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