North Dakota volleyball players champion a cause

FARGO, N.D. (Sept. 25) — Cancer death rates continue to fall in the US, thanks to heightened awareness and increasing support for research programs, according to a report published in January in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. From 1991 to 2015, the cancer death rate has dropped about 1.5 percent a year on average, but the American Cancer Society says some form of the disease will be newly diagnosed this year in more than 1.7 million people—and more than 600,000 will die from it.

“We’re making progress in reducing death rates from cancer because of improvements in treatment and early detection,” the New York Times quoted the senior author, Ahmedin Jemal, a vice president of the American Cancer Society, as saying about the downward trend. “But prevention is the low-hanging fruit. We still have 40 million adult smokers in the US, which accounts for nearly a third of cancer deaths.”


Fargo Davies High School (Voxitatis)

With numbers like that, it’s unlikely that anyone hasn’t been touched by the disease in some way. Missy Wilson, who coaches the girls’ volleyball team here at Davies High School, said her mother had breast cancer, the most common form of cancer in women, accounting for some 30 percent of all cases. Prostate cancer is most common in men, at about 19 percent, but neither of those is the biggest killer. Lung cancer remains the most common cause of death, accounting for about one-fourth of all deaths from cancer in both sexes.

Wilson’s team will once again join an entire nation of high school volleyball teams in the “Dig for a Cure,” a persistent effort on the part of young people to give back to their communities that began more than a decade ago. Funds raised at the match that has the Eagles from Davies traveling a few miles to West Fargo High School on October 11 will this year be donated to the local chapter of the American Cancer Society, Wilson said.

Her teams began the tradition in 2006, when she coached at Fargo North High School, also in the Eastern Dakota Conference and the Fargo Public Schools district. Every season, the North Spartans would use their match against Fargo South’s Bruins to raise money for cancer awareness or research programs.

Teams everywhere fight cancer and remember its victims

In Hyannis, Massachusetts, the Red Raiders of Barnstable High School remembered their 2014 senior co-captain, Olivia Brodt, at the team’s second “Dig Yellow Night,” The Cape Cod Times reports. The event is a fundraiser for childhood cancer awareness—Olivia died last year at the age of 20 from cancer—and the undefeated Barnstable team won in straight sets.

The student newspaper at Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois, presents a gallery of 14 photos from the volleyball team’s match against Niles North, which doubled as a fundraiser for childhood cancer awareness.

The Interact Club at Edwardsville High School in Illinois holds an annual event at which students complete the lyrics to pop songs and donate money to “Paint the Town Gold,” which supports research and other programs around pediatric cancer, The Tiger Times reports.

The boys’ golf team at Naperville Central High School in Illinois honored Connor Hunt at the crosstown match against Naperville North on September 13 by raising money to support pediatric cancer research, The Central Times reports. Their former teammate died in February due to rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive form of rare childhood soft tissue cancer.

The Mayo Clinic co-sponsored a Dig for a Cure event at the University of Wisconsin, Stout, when the volleyball team played Saint Mary’s University on October 3.

Davies first opened its doors in the southern part of this prairie town, a few yards from the Red River and the Minnesota line, in the 2011-12 school year, and Wilson became the volleyball coach in 2013. The Dig for a Cure event last season benefited kids at Kamp KACE, a summer camp for kids with cancer, KVRR-TV reported.

“It is just a fun way to make them feel like they fit in with everybody else,” the station quoted co-captain Averi Beyer, the team’s libero, as saying about the camp that tends to the medical needs of pediatric cancer patients while providing them and their siblings with a summer camp experience like other kids their age. It helps kids with cancer feel like kids.

Student-athletes at Davies High School—named after Ronald N Davies, a US District Court judge who ordered the initial desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in a ruling that would be affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1954 as Brown v Topeka Board of Education—have already put a number of state and conference titles in the trophy case, including:

  • Boys’ basketball (2014); and football (2014)
  • Girls’ soccer (2014, 2017, 2018); golf (2011, 2012, 2015); cross-country (2011, 2016, 2017); track (2016, 2017, 2018); and hockey (2012)

In addition to the state titles listed above, based on the banners that hang in the school’s gym, teams at the school have won no fewer than three dozen Eastern Dakota Conference titles, a group that includes 11 area high schools, three of which are in Fargo. And at the newest high school in the district, the championships don’t show any sign of slowing, especially on the volleyball team.

The Eagles took less than an hour to defeat the Rough Riders from Red River High School in Grand Forks, sweeping them 25-18, 25-10, 25-7, on the day of our visit. The team’s record has since fallen to 21-2 overall, though they still lead the EDC, as both those losses came against out-of-state teams.

“A lot of accolades go to the great captains we have,” Wilson said. “It’s easy for the team to come in every day and want to improve, because they’re sometimes more likely to follow their friends and their peers than they are to follow us as coaches.”

That continuous desire to improve is the mark of a championship team in any conference and in any sport, but at Davies, it shows. The precise movement of players on each point is like an outfield player on a baseball field who moves into position even before the pitch. Getting into position like that, even before the ball is hit, is instinctive for a team like Davies—almost muscle memory or what might be called volleyball IQ. It’s also further evidence of strong leadership from both students and coaches.

Although the stats weren’t available to us for this report, the team also had several successful blocks at the net. This is yet another testament to how quick athletes are on the court and how quick they are to make important technical adjustments, worked on in practice, during the match—strategies that increase the chances of winning any given point.

“One of the girls, in our huddle after the match, said she one-hundred percent agreed that we applied what we worked on in practice,” Wilson said.

And the learning is far from over when practice ends. On several occasions during the match, a player would come out for a point or two, only to have Wilson demonstrate or explain something about a recent point. “You were hitting it like this,” she would show with her wrist, “but you need to hit it like this.”

Then the player would go back in and apply the correction. “When it’s done in a nurturing way like that, kids really want to get better every day,” she said.

The school encourages student-athletes to participate in sports other than volleyball. “Most of our players are two-sport athletes,” Wilson said. “They mostly do volleyball and track or volleyball and soccer.” A few have gone on to play in college, and as with many volleyball teams across the country, most of the athletes also play on club teams outside the high school.

“They may be on different club teams,” Wilson said, “but they know, when they come to Davies, this is their team now. Right from the beginning, they’re playing for Davies.”

So on Thursday, the team will compete against West Fargo on the court but collaborate with them in a united drive in the fight against cancer, raising funds at the match and awareness afterwards of the killer disease in yet another generation.

“This is always an opportunity for kids to give back to their communities,” Wilson said.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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