Last updated: February 20. 2013 4:10AM - 357 Views

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While they may be fierce competitors on the court, Abington Heights High School and Scranton Preparatory School join together each year to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research through their annual Pink Night girls basketball game.

Abington Heights head coach Vince Bucciarelli proposed the idea for the game after watching a similar event on TV in 2007.

I was watching a women's college basketball game involving the late coach (Kay) Yow of North Carolina State, he said. She had cancer and all the players had pink uniforms on. I thought that might be a good idea. I presented it to my parents club about six years ago and they jumped on board with me. At the time, I wanted to do it with former head coach Roy Gibbs from Scranton Prep because he was a friend of mine and he was more than willing to do it with us. We did it with him the first year, since then they have a new coach, but we kept the tradition going.

According to Bucciarelli, the Scranton Prep parents club asked if they could host it the second year. This will be the fifth year of the special game, with the host site rotating each year.

Bucciarelli said he has been pleased with how well the community has embraced the event from the start.

There's been great support from everyone, he said. Both parents clubs do a great job with it. All the girls that have played in it the past five years come together. They go out and play a hard game, but both teams go out and sell T-shirts to raise money.

I didn't realize how much money we could collect. I started it because I've been coaching young girls all these years. I thought maybe I could give back something to the community and bring more awareness to breast cancer.

The first year, the funds were donated to the NEPA Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the CureĀ® and the last four years to the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute.

According to Robert Durkin, President of the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute, funds raised from the game have been vital to many programs the organization offers.

We're most grateful to the students, booster clubs and administrations of both schools, Durkin said. What's great about the event is that young ladies take it upon themselves to address an important issue that may someday affect them or may be affecting their aunt, mom or other loved ones. It's really heartening to see that they want to do something great to benefit so many generations.

Some programs that are offered by the Cancer Institute with the help of money generated from the game include:

* Breast Cancer: What I Need to Know: This program provides current information on breast cancer including, risk factors, warning signs and symptoms plus screening recommendations. All sessions are offered free of charge to the public.

* Pink Lights Interest Patch: The Institute worked with the Girl Scouts in the Heart of PA to develop the Pink Light interest patch promoting breast health and breast cancer awareness for regional Girl Scouts.

Survivors Celebration was held September 22, 2012 at Kirby Park, Wilkes-Barre and September 29, 2012 at McDade Park, Scranton.As always, the events provide cancer survivors, caregivers and healthcare professionals the opportunity to gather and meet others who know firsthand what it means to celebrate life.

* Cancer Resources Guide and www.cancernepa.org: The Cancer Institute's Cancer Resources Guide and web page have information on specific cancers. These well -utilized resources offer basic facts on breast cancer, regional support groups, links to national sites and updates on current screening recommendations.

* Program Integration: The Cancer Institute has integrated basic wellness information into all Community Education Programs. This includes the recent updates on breast cancer screening.

* Information and Referrals: The Cancer Institute responds daily to requests for information and resources on specific cancers, including breast for the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Trained professionals provide personalized counseling as well as information on support groups, web sites and fact sheets.

Bucciarelli's favorite part about the game is the packed house united by a cause and a color.

Coming in the gym and looking in the stands you don't know who's cheering for who because everyone is in pink shirts, he said. To have 600 people show up all dressed the same for a girls basketball game is a pretty neat experience to see in the stands.

In the midst of a season, competitive nature can take over and make it easy to forget the real important things in life. Bucciarelli keeps his Lady Comets grounded through multiple community service projects.

There is more to life than just playing basketball, Bucciarelli said. I don't like to lose games, but I try to instill in the young ladies that I've been coaching that there is more to basketball than wins and losses.

Bucciarelli believes the experiences have a lasting effect on his players.

I've heard from girls in the past that they were happy that they did this, he said. Girls that I've coached come back and say this miss playing, but got a lot out of doing other things besides playing basketball.

Lady Comets' junior center Breanna Toro enjoys the fundraising aspect of the event.

My favorite part is raising the money by selling the shirts, she said. I think it's a great experience for all of us and a great way to help people who are in need.

Senior forward Katherine Rosencrance is moved the moment at half court when both teams gather to present the check to the Cancer Institute.

When we ask the people that have been affected by cancer to stand up, it's great seeing the people of our community that we're helping, she said.

Rosencrance added that it's rewarding to work together with a division opponent to improve the lives of women now and in the future.

Knowing that they are one of our biggest rivals, but we're actually working together for a good cause is the best part about it, she said.

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