Volley for a Cure supporters wearing everything from tutus to hairbows painted the Lee University Walker Arena pink when they showed up to cheer on the Lee Lady Flames volleyball team Friday night.
An exodus of pink shirts could be seen crossing campus, filing into the Walker Arena and entering the gymnasium as 7 p.m. drew near.
Supporters of the event were unable to follow their shirt’s mandate as they watched the Lee Lady Flames knock-out Valdosta State University. Cheers could be heard from the mass of onlookers sitting in the stands lining the walls.
Vice President of Enrollment Phil Cook quieted the crowd between game two and three of the volleyball match.
“Tonight the ladies volleyball team and Lee University are proud to be sponsoring this event for the Mary Ellen Locher Foundation,” Cook said before directing the crowd’s attention to the foundation banners.
“When Mary Ellen developed breast cancer, it was her desire that her son would someday be able to attend college. Inspired by others who were battling this horrible disease, she established this foundation in 2002 to lift the financial burdens faced by these families.”
The foundation has been awarding scholarships for 11 years.
Friday night marked a seven-year partnership between the Chattanooga-based foundation and Lee University. Through this partnership comes an annual scholarship to a local student awarded at the culmination of Volley for a Cure.
The scholarship will henceforth be called “Jo Momma Orr” Volley for a Cure scholarship in honor of volleyball women’s head coach Andrea Hudson’s recently deceased mother.
“For the past six years, Jo Retta Orr, a Lee University Athletic Hall of Fame inductee ... was pretty in pink for this event. From the time she entered the building, she would don her pink hat, pink boa, pink beads and just about anything you wanted her to wear that was pink,” Cook said. “Tonight’s event is dedicated to her love for college students.”
Brother and sister duo Orlando and Betsy Valenzuela were awarded the scholarship. It was the first time more than one student received the award. Hudson said the committee will determine how to split the money.
“The Valenzuela family moved to Cleveland from Guatemala. the Rev. Orlando Valenzuela currently pastors a local church while also attending the school of theology,” Cook said. “In 2012, Reina, his beautiful wife, learned that she had breast cancer. Through treatments and surgery, this close knit family has joined together with much faith with Reina as she has fought hard against breast cancer.”
Both students currently attend Lee University.
Hudson said the VFAC events were the best yet.
“I kept seeing more and more people from the community begin to understand what this event was about,” Hudson said. “I was so happy they embraced this and they all understood it was an opportunity to help kids out in a smally way— even if it is just buying a T-shirt.”
More than 8,000 shirts were sold as the major fundraiser for the VFAC events.
Hudson said $26,000 of the more than $40,000 came from T-shirts sold at Walker Valley, Bradley Central, Cleveland and Ooltewah high schools.
“We couldn’t do it without them,” Hudson said. “We appreciate all of the people at the high schools who take this on during October.”
She explained the shirts, which are sold for $5, only garner the cause a $2 profit for each one sold. The remaining $3 are used to help cover remaining printing expenses not covered by corporate sponsors.
Hudson said one of the goals for next year is to gain two to three more sponsors to increase the amount of money that can go toward scholarships versus expenses.
Community members showed up for the event wearing the pink “Keep Calm and Volley for a Cure” shirts.
Hudson said the shirts were an outward sign of everyone helping out and a community uniting for a common cause.
“I’m from Cleveland and I work at Lee. I love the fact that our community embraces our school and we did it together from the [doctors versus firemen] ball game to [Friday] night,” Hudson said. “It was great to just see the different facets of everyone joining together.”
The Pink Party kicked off the festivities Friday night. Guests were met with balloons and decorations in varying shades of pink surrounding tables of baked goods and merchandise.
Young girls and older ladies alike flocked to the hairstyle table. Members from Lee University’s service-learning club Zeta, whose signature color is pink, twisted and flipped hair in all directions.
Some children wandered over to the photo shoot set up while others preferred to wait in the concessions stand manned by Zeta.
Everyone seemed to take a special interest in the silent auction line-up. Potted plants, a signed Georgia State helmet, various gift baskets and other much desired items lined the Walker Arena hallway.
Zandra Welch, VFAC committee member and Hudson’s sister, said the silent auction raised more than $3,500. In addition, the flamingo yard flocking by Doctors Express brought in close to $3,000.
She agreed with Hudson saying this year was the best Volley for a Cure yet.
“It has just been a month long of support from our community to make VFAC what it is,” Welch said. “We are just so grateful for what they have done. There are just too many individuals to name. Lee University plays host to this and they have great facilities.”