Field hockey: ‘Drive out Cancer’ preseason tournament a success once again

An Oak Hill player, in purple center, is flanked by a pair of Maranacook players, in pink, during Saturday’s Drive Out Cancer Field Hockey Tournament in Topsham. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

TOPSHAM — When Krista Chase, head coach of hockey at Mount Ararat, started the annual “Expel Cancer” game between Mount Ararat and Morse several years ago, she had plans to make it bigger than just that one game.

Those plans have been a reality for seven years now, and were on display for the first time in two years on Saturday, when Mount Ararat presented Brunswick, Lincoln Academy, Lisbon, Maranacook, Morse and Oak Hill at Ararat Middle School in Topsham.

“This one is special for several reasons,” Chase said. “After how it went last year, we feel so lucky to have the chance to play matches again for a good cause.”

Teams held a virtual fundraiser last season but were unable to play matches due to protocols surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

But on Saturday everything was back to normal. Tents were set up with concession stands and equipment for purchase. Spectators could purchase a ribbon to write the name of a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer. In the middle of the day there was a ceremony where the ribbons were placed on the north side of the fields. A minute’s silence was held in memory of those who have had to deal with cancer.

During Saturday’s Drive Out Cancer Field Hockey Tournament in Topsham, people place windmills and paper ribbons with the names of someone affected by cancer. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Funds were raised by teams benefiting from the Maine Children’s Cancer Program, based in Scarborough. Scrimmages were played in round-robin format on both fields throughout the day. Halfway through the day there was a ceremony where cancer survivors, families of cancer patients and current cancer patients spoke about their experiences. A car wash was held on Mount Ararat last week, while Oak Hill set up a bottle ride.

The event has raised more than $60,000 in the past seven years.

“It means a lot to me,” said Oak Hill assistant hockey coach Abby Fuller, a 2016 graduate of Oak Hill High and a six-year cancer survivor. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see everyone here supporting this cause today. It’s emotional.”

During Saturday’s Drive Out Cancer Field Hockey Tournament in Topsham, people put up windmills and paper ribbons with the names of someone affected by cancer. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Morse head coach Kerri Reno called it a blessing to be back playing after last year’s hiatus.

“I am thrilled to see how much this event has grown after just one match between Mount Ararat and Morse,” said Reno. “Field hockey in this state is a family. To be able to come together and play hockey for such a good cause is really special and I’m so happy to be a part of that.”

It is also a special day for the players.

“Nothing feels better than playing for a goal like this, it’s something special for me,” said Paige Witwicki, a senior at Mount Ararat. “It took some getting used to going out again, but today was great.”

Maranacook goalkeeper Esme Jamison blocks a shot against Brunswick during Saturday’s Drive Out Cancer Field Hockey Tournament in Topsham. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Mount Ararat had to play a preseason scrimmage before Saturday this season.

Witwicki was one of many speakers who spoke about their own experience or that of a loved one with childhood cancer.

Maranacook head coach Ashley Work said her team had been waiting for this day for quite some time.

“It’s beyond amazing,” Work said. “Seeing them socialize and have fun knowing what we’re playing for is a fantastic feeling that the girls won’t forget.”

While the scoreboard didn’t matter during Saturday’s event, it’s a good way for teams to see some of the competition they’ll face when the regular season kicks off next week.

On the concession table were special cookies custom-made for Saturday’s Drive Out Cancer Field Hockey Tournament in Topsham. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“Preseason games are so important,” said Reno. “It’s hard to get the girls to pass the way you want until they step on the pitch, so this is a good way for us to see where we are.”

Brunswick senior Kaeden Green added: “It’s a good way to get back in the mood, it’s been a long time since we last played a real game.”

The regular season starts on Wednesday.

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