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by Megan Jennings ’16
The women’s basketball team was originally scheduled to begin its season on Nov. 15, 2014 against the Mount St. Joseph University Lions, a Cincinnati area team the Hiram College Terriers had never played. But even before the Terriers gathered for their first practice of the year, that date had been pushed forward to Nov. 2, and the venue moved from Hiram’s home court to the Cintas Center at Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio. The emotional story behind the game has become a nationally covered illustration of perseverance, collaboration and sportsmanship. Mount St. Joseph University freshman Lauren Hill dreamed of playing with her college team, but an aggressive brainstem cancer was rapidly incapacitating her. It seemed that by the team’s first game, Hill would no longer be physically able to take the court. So the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) allowed the game to be moved up by almost two weeks to give Hill a chance at her dream. On Nov. 2, 2014, Lauren Hill stepped onto the court for “One Last
Game.” “When they decided to move (the game), we realized it wasn’t just for Lauren having one last game,” says Dana Perrotta ’17, who explained Hill’s hope was also to raise awareness about her cancer – diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) – a rare, inoperable pediatric brain tumor. “That’s when I realized how selfless she was.”
Before the big game on Nov. 2, the Lions treated the Terriers to dinner, where the two teams bonded over college memories and basketball, and formed a relationship unknown between teams in collegiate basketball. “It was like sitting down with people you’ve known your whole life. It was effortless,” said Taylor Ratliff ’15. “We laughed and cried.” The Terriers were not only moved by the overwhelming gratitude the Lions displayed during dinner, but by Lauren’s positivity in the face of her illness and the emotional intensity of the situation. “Just being in the same room as her … you could feel her energy,” says Perrotta. “She just lights up a room. You want to smile.” On Nov. 2, the game opened with Lauren Hill making her first collegiate layup. Kelsey Koskinen ’15 remembers how the stadium erupted in cheers. “When people ask about that moment, I can give you every emotion, every sense that was going on, and I could see the smile on her face,” she recalls. “It’s in my brain forever and it always will be. The smile she had on her face was priceless. It was the world for her to be there and shoot that layup.” “It was like a movie,” says Ratliff. “You look up, and you see people, their hands moving, their mouths going, and you hear nothing. You just look up, and immediately everyone just waves, and you just stand there and smile and cry.” “I think for a second, we forgot that she was on the other team,” says Perrotta. “I felt like it was one of our teammates who just made that shot. It was like we couldn’t wait for it to happen.” The game ended with a win for the Lions at 66-55. But there were no losers on that day.
“When we think about it, it wasn’t a loss at all,” says Koskinen. “We won because Lauren was out there and played the game. That’s all she wanted to do. Looking back, it was a blessing that we got to be a part of it.” Even though the teams met only that one time on the court, they gathered again a few weeks later. The Mount St. Joseph team, on its way home from playing against Baldwin Wallace University, made a stop in Hiram to cheer the Terriers on
against Albion College (Michigan). The Lions also presented a gift of appreciation to the Terriers: a framed “Play for 22” shirt, signed by the entire team.
Note: The national outpouring of support for Lauren Hill has been overwhelming. As of March 25, 2015, $1.4 million has been donated in Lauren Hill’s name to The Cure Starts Now Foundation.