Under ordinary circumstances, a cross-town rivalry matchup is enough to raise emotions on both sides of the Joliet Central vs. Joliet West volleyball equation.
When the two squared off earlier this month, a year’s worth of bragging rights on the line, the circumstances were extra-ordinary.
Players, coaches and fans on both sides gathered to celebrate the lives of Arlene Bambule, Peg Bryan and Minnie Hervey in their annual Volley for the Cure showdown to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The three women were closely connected to both programs.
All three died of breast cancer in span of the last 11 months. Bambule’s daughter, Suzzanne, coaches the Steelmen. She worked as an assistant under Al Mart before the 2010-11 JT athletic department split put the two in opposite corners, Mart taking the reins of the Joliet West varsity program three years ago.
“It did hit home,” he said. “With Peg (Bryan)—we’ve lived with that for years—I’ve known her since I first got in the volleyball program. And, then, Miss Hervey working in the athletic office with us and Suzie (Bambule) coaching with me, yeah, it did take on a special meaning.
“Not only just for me, but the kids—they come in this office—knowing Miss Hervey for years. Peg (Bryan) coming in and scorekeeping with them all—former players, current players. They had an impact not only on their volleyball lives, but on their personal lives as well.”
All three women once could have been described as “friends of the program,” only that description would have fallen short on so many levels in JT volleyball circles. They were admired for their courage, loved for their undying support. Surely, they were looking down from on high with a collective smile on their faces during Joliet West’s 25-19, 25-16 victory over Joliet Central.
And, know this, too, their presence was felt in the gym.
“Absolutely, there were a lot of tears shed, from a lot of different people,” Mart said. “The thing we talked about—and Mr. (Steve) Millsaps (Joliet West’s athletic director) and I talked with the girls—is it’s an important event. But, if you were to ask Peg or you’d ask Miss Hervey or I’m sure Suzie would tell you the same thing about her mom, they would want you to celebrate their lives.
“They understood what the Volley for the Cure is and what cancer does to people and they wouldn’t want you feeling sorry. They would want you to smile and have a good time and cheer the good memories about them. I think that was what the evening was about.”
Katie Brick, Joliet West’s 5-foot-4 senior setter, brought her ‘A’ game to the floor and to the cause, so determined was she to see the Tigers end a two-game losing streak to JT Central and to make a difference in the lives of breast cancer victims.
Before the match, she sold T-shirts and helped Joliet West raise about $4,000. Her motivation was personal. Her grandmother and her mother’s aunt both died of breast cancer.
“I think it was really important to us because it really hit on a deeper level,” Brick said. “A lot of us have lost people close to us to breast cancer. So, that was a really an emotional aspect of the (match). And, then, obviously, just with Central, and the rivalry.
“It was incredible. It meant a lot to me—especially being a senior—to win the (match) and just to play in the (match).”
Brick considers herself lucky. She can play games. She knows the harsh reality is others are less fortunate. Cancer eats opportunities.
In a bid to fight the spread of all types of the disease, many in the masses have joined forces. Rare is the occasion you can go anywhere in October without finding someone wearing a pink ribbon to mark National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
JT Central and JT West players wore special pink jerseys and looked pretty in pink, more so because of what they were accomplishing by taking an active part in an ongoing crusade to find a cure than by their actual physical appearance. They were shining participants in a Volley for the Cure event that has come to be recognized as a staple on almost every team’s schedule across America.
And you don’t have to ask Joliet West’s 5-9 junior middle hitter Jayln Vertin why the event is considered a highlight by so many volleyball players and coaches. She notched seven blocks in the Tigers’ win over the Steelmen. In fact, she played one of her best matches.
She was playing with a purpose. This wasn’t about her—it was about them, all of them, everywhere. Mothers, daughters, sisters.
“My aunt is actually a survivor of breast cancer,” Vertin said. “It was just really big for the family because I remember my mom talking about it all the time, how she was struggling, how they weren’t sure if she was going to make it. But, luckily, she did. She’s fine now. She beat it. And they haven’t had any signs of it coming back, either.”
Now, that’s something to celebrate.