The Jackson Middle School eighth-grade girls volleyball match Oct. 11 was special, and not just because it was the season-ending game against local rival Brookpark.
Team members, parents, Jackson students and even Brookpark supporters attended the game decked out in pink shirts, many wearing pink wigs, to show their support and love for coach Danita Hardesty, who has continued to lead Jackson's eighth-grade team while battling breast cancer. Hardesty also teaches at Park Street Intermediate.
The "pink out" was kept secret from Hardesty, who had promised her players that if they won the last four games before the season finale and kept their opponents scores below 20, she would forego wearing her wig for the last match.
And the players would be able to paint a volleyball on the top of her head.
Hardesty kept her promise, and prior to the game, team members got their reward.
And their coach got an unexpected tribute.
"I am shocked. It's a huge surprise," Hardesty said as her squad prepared to take on Brookpark. "I can't believe the number of kids and adults who've come to this game wearing pink. It means a lot to me."
She said that despite undergoing treatment for the last several months, she wanted to keep coaching and teaching to show her students the importance of fighting through adversity.
Her promise to coach their last game without a wig if they met her challenge helped keep her players motivated and focused on their goal of winning, Hardesty said.
"Coach Hardesty is a great coach and motivator," team member Mary Kate Scholl said. "We love her so much."
"She's very helpful on the court and off," Colbi Matheny said.
The idea for the pink out and wearing pink T-shirts was inspired by a show of support Hardesty's husband, Daniel, demonstrated when he participated last summer in the annual Grove City High School alumni softball tournament.
"I wore a pink shirt that said 'It can hit home' with a picture of home plate on the back,' he said.
At the volleyball game, the T-shirts sported the same message with a picture of a volleyball on the back.
"I wanted her to know she's loved by everyone," Daniel Hardesty said. "This turnout is amazing.
"My wife hasn't missed a beat," he said. "She's only missed a practice or a day of school when she's undergoing chemotherapy. She's an inspiration to us all."
Jackson Middle School parent Roland Kreml praised his daughter's coach for being willing to work the Oct. 11 game with "nothing but paint on her head.
"She didn't know if others would point and stare. She did not know what anyone would think," he said. "She only knew that she is fighting cancer and she was going to show her girls strength.
"What an amazing teachable moment she grasped," Kreml said. "I was proud to see her coaching my daughter and proud to know she is a teacher in my children's school system."