Lauren Hill and Her Season-Opener That Extended Beyond the Court

By Brigid McCuen on November 10, 2014
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image via cleveland.com

For most collegiate athletes, the first game of freshman year is just a taste of what’s to come: four more years of sweat, rivalry, tournaments, early-morning practices, team bonding and championships.

For Lauren Hill, freshman on Mount St. Joseph’s women’s basketball team, the first game of the season meant something entirely different.

As a senior at Lawrenceburg High, Hill committed to play basketball for The Mount in October 2013. Hill was an extremely talented player, and college basketball was the next logical step.

However, during one practice early on in the season, Hill started playing sloppily, experiencing Vertigo and dizziness. An MRI gave the worst possible results: an inoperable brain tumor. Life expectancy: two years, tops.

One year later, and Hill has still been actively participating in her Mount St. Joe’s basketball team. Despite chemotherapy and radiation, steroids and a weakened body, she attends every practice; for her, giving up wasn’t an option. It especially wasn’t an option when, against all odds, she played in the season-opener against Hiram College on November 1.

The game sold out within an hour of ticket sales. While most women’s basketball games at The Mount average about 100 fans, Hill’s first collegiate game had attendance of over 10,000. Among those in attendance were legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt, and WNBA stars Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins and Tamika Catchings. The game’s location was moved to Xavier University’s basketball arena in order to house the massive crowd.

Just 17 seconds into the first half, Hill scored a layup from the left, and all 10,000 fans went wild. She exited the game soon after, resuming the bench due to nausea and dizziness, but cheered on her teammates nonetheless, high-fiving each one as they subbed in and out.

However, when the “We Love Lauren! We love Lauren!” chants began with 30 seconds left in the game, The Mount’s coach, Dan Benjamin, called a timeout. When the clock resumed, Hill got back on the court, and made the last basket of the night: a layup from the right. Mount St. Joe’s took home the victory, 66-55.

Since her initial diagnosis, the tumor has grown. Hill’s life expectancy now extends no further than December. Her specific diagnosis is that of a brain tumor called DPIG: Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Giloma. It has a zero percent survival rate. This type of pediatric cancer research is underfunded, and Hill hoped her first college game would bring this fact to light, while raising money for the cause.

And raise money it did. The game ended up amassing over $40,000 for TCSN, which dedicates research for DPIG. Hill was also awarded the U.S. Basketball Writers Association’s Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award, as well as a $5,000 check to The Cure Starts Now from the Indiana Pacers and Fever.

Lauren Hill’s first collegiate basketball game may not have been the first of many in a four-year basketball career, full of sweaty jerseys, game-winning buzzer shots and endless hours of practice. It was a lot more than that: Lauren Hill was able to give a face to pediatric brain cancer.

More than anything, this game was a tribute to a spirited but resolute girl with a love for the game and an unshakable faith in her coach, teammates, the game of basketball, and the prospect of one day finding a cure.

In the words of Hill herself:

“To reach and touch this many people is amazing. Not many people knew about DIPG before me, and now that they do, we can get research going to cure this cancer. I won’t be around to see that, but it’s going to help so many people. That’s why the support can’t end with this game.”

You can watch ESPN’s segment on Lauren Hill here.

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By Brigid McCuen

Uloop Writer

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