Cancer awareness game has new meaning for basketball coach
KENNESAW, Ga. (Feb 5, 2019) — Every year prior to Kennesaw State University’s annual cancer awareness basketball doubleheader, women’s coach Agnus Berenato asks her players the same question: “Who are you playing for?”
Previously, sophomore guard Breanna Hoover didn’t have an answer. She, like others on the team, didn’t claim a personal connection to anyone affected by cancer. However, that changed in September 2018 when Berenato made her own fight with breast cancer public.
“This year there is no hesitation,” Hoover said. “I’m playing for her.”
On Saturday, Berenato and the Owls will take the court once again in the Pink Day game. The event is held each year to promote breast cancer awareness and education, and will feature a survivor walk, wellness screenings and cancer informational stations by WellStar. The Pink Game tradition traces its roots back to Berenato’s time as head coach of the University of Pittsburgh women’s basketball team where, under her guidance, the Panthers held an annual “Pink the Pete” game in the University’s Petersen Events Center with an average attendance of more than 4,000.
Berenato came to Kennesaw State in March 2016 with a five-year plan on how she would build the women’s basketball program. High on her list of priorities was to introduce the Pink Day game and to fill the Convocation Center to capacity by her third year. This year, she will be taking the event a step further by introducing an endowed scholarship to benefit a KSU student who has battled cancer in their lifetime. To reach their goal of $50,000, the men’s and women’s basketball teams will raise money through a silent auction, T-shirt sales and donations.
“I’ve always considered myself an educator, and as an educator I feel that I have a responsibility to reach everyone that I can,” said Berenato, who on Wednesday was honored with the Carol Eckman Integrity in Coaching Award by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association. “Some people who come to our games might not have access to the kinds of resources they’ll see on Pink Day. Because of that, I feel like we have a responsibility to raise awareness and help improve our community by providing educational materials and screenings.”
Cancer isn’t anything new to Berenato. While coaching at Rider University earlier in her career, she took a leave of absence in order to care for her mother, who passed away following a battle with breast cancer. She also lost her brother to cancer but saw her sister beat the odds to become a breast cancer survivor.
When Berenato disclosed her own diagnosis during a team dinner, she reassured them that she isn’t afraid, adopting the phrase, “Trust me now, believe me later.” Realizing that most of her players haven’t been exposed to anyone suffering from cancer, she used the opportunity to share her experience and educate them on how to look after their own well-being.
Since her diagnosis, she has only missed one game this season and routinely schedules her treatments early in the morning in order to maximize time with her players.
“She’s fighting and every single day we see her in the gym,” said Carlotta Gianolla, a junior forward. “She’s incredibly strong and it has been so inspiring for us.”
Berenato said this year’s Pink Day isn’t about her own fight and that she refuses to be defined by cancer. She instead sees the annual event as a way to support the community in which she lives.
“A lot of people will look at me and say my only purpose is to win games,” she said. “I feel like my job isn’t just to win games but to also influence lives and make the people around me better. I don’t think we should ever sell ourselves short. We can always make a difference.”
To purchase tickets for Pink Day, click here.
– Travis Highfield
Photos by Rob Witzel
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.