When the fifth- and sixth-grade girls from Tampa’s Skills Center Lady Elite program saw a tournament called “Think Pink” on the schedule, it didn’t take long for them to start … uh, thinking pink.
They obviously weren’t the only ones.
The 62 boys and 56 girls teams adorned themselves in all sorts of pink tributes for the three-day Florida USSSA state qualifier in Tampa and St. Petersburg, with proceeds benefiting the V Foundation for Cancer Research (www.jimmyv.org).
There were pink shoes, pink socks, pink headbands – even pink shoelaces, distributed by Florida Elite, the tournament’s organizers.
But no one took it as seriously as the 17 girls from Skills Center Lady Elite’s two youngest teams.
“I think it’s great to have a tournament for a special occasion,” said 11-year-old point guard Maliyah Perry, a sixth-grader. “The money’s going to cancer so we can help people to get better, just like we’re getting better in basketball.”
“It’s just good that they’re doing this, and it’s not just another tournament to go to. We’re actually doing it so we can fund-raise for (cancer patients).”
Perry’s team ordered special “Cancer Awareness” socks and hair bows – shipped to them from China – to wear during their games at Bayshore Christian, Tampa Catholic and the University of Tampa. Each girl’s hair bow was inscribed “Eva,” a special tribute to cancer patient Eva McDonald, a friend of one of the coaches who posed for a picture with the team on Friday night at Bayshore.
Skills Center Lady Elite won the sixth-grade division, beating Central Florida Elite 26-25 and the Naples Storm 43-4 in pool play, before dispatching Titans Elite 30-26 in Sunday’s championship game.
The fifth-graders won one of their four games.
“We wanted to really support (McDonald) and come out and make a big statement,” said fifth-grade coach David Gilbert.
Perry and her teammates also donned pink duct tape under each eye, creating the look of an NFL player on game days – though maybe not quite as scary.
“It’s good to see them supporting a cause,” said Lillian Heppenstall, the team mom who organized the effort. “We really planned it out. I made my daughter (Ariana, a post player on the sixth-grade team) special shirts with our friend’s name on it.”
“They need to know this is a good cause. Cancer can happen to anybody.”
Added Gilbert: “In practice, the girls were really excited about this week. We haven’t had a tournament in about a month, so we really wanted to come out here, show our presence and show everybody who we are.”
From the fifth-grade Florida Lightning’s “4-foot-something” guard (Moriah Sanchez), to Florida Future’s 3-something pre-kindergarten point guard (playing on a third-grade team), to SEBA Select’s bespectacled eighth-grader (Richard Gouraige), to Vero Beach High’s Brannon Shaw, who led the Florida Comets to the 11th-grade boys’ championship … it seemed as if everyone thinking points during the weekend was also thinking pink.
“We’re just learning how to play basketball, but we can still give back to people who have cancer,” said Gouraige, who scored 12 points in SEBA’s 53-31 championship victory over the Team Under Pressure Souldiers at St. Petersburg’s Wildwood Recreation Center.
He hopes to enroll at Tampa Prep, Cambridge Christian or Berkeley Prep next fall.
“We’re very hard-working, I love my team for that,” he said. “I just love playing with my team. We’ve won two championships. But my grandma died two years ago from breast cancer, so that’s why I’ve started buying pink shoes.”
Some other highlights from Sunday at Wildwood:
Karmani Gregory, wearing pink socks, poured in 24 points – including a 6-of-7 effort at the free-throw line – as the Clearwater-based St. Paul Stars pulled away for a 46-29 victory over Largo’s Warehouse Ballers in an intense fourth-grade finale. Gregory, who had 16 points in the first half, was joined on the All-Tournament team by teammates Aumhryaun Brown and Alex Russo.
Shaw’s 15 points powered the Comets’ 62-61 victory over the Tampa Bay Ambassadors, who got 25 points from Chamberlain’s Rashawn Fredericks. A free throw in the 11th-grade title game’s final five seconds broke a 61-all tie.
The United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), headquartered in Osceola County, Florida, USSSA is the World’s Largest Multi-sport Athletic Organization. Founded in 1968, USSSA has grown to over 3.7 million participants, competing in 13 nationally sanctioned sports including Baseball, Fastpitch, Slow Pitch, Karate, Basketball, Soccer and more! For more information on USSSA and to register your team visit USSSA.com. Also be sure to visit USSSAToday.com for the latest USSSA News!