Digging Into Dig Pink

What started as a coach honoring her mother has turned into a partnership between two rivals

By Alisha Birchmeier

In 1600, the first case of breast cancer was recognized in Edwin Smith Papyrus. Four centuries later, in 2007, Jean Atkinson was diagnosed with breast cancer. To most, this seems insignificant, but for Dexter and Chelsea’s high school volleyball teams, this started a new tradition.

Laura Cleveland, Chelsea’s varsity volleyball coach, started Dig Pink in honor of her mother, Jean Atkinson.

“When I first found out about Laura doing Dig Pink in my honor, I could’ve cried right there, but I knew I couldn’t,” Atkinson said.

Cleveland initially got the idea while looking online at different schools, when she came upon several schools in Ohio that ran a similar event. She then talked to the parents of the Chelsea volleyball team and the Dexter volleyball coach. Cleveland started a streamlined approach to provide a foundation for the program. She did this based on what she saw from the teams in Ohio.

“I love the idea that a sporting event can take rivals and they collectively work together for a greater cause,” Cleveland said.

After Cleveland discovered this foundation, the parents of Chelsea volleyball players started fundraising for Dig Pink. The first part of fundraising was to produce t-shirts. This involved coming up with the design and getting them printed was the start. After that, the parents took off with other ways to fundraise such as bake sales, drawings, and small awareness knick knacks.

The first game was the birth of a tradition for the small town rivals. While Cleveland started this for her mother, she also started it for both Dexter and Chelsea.

Both towns are dear to Cleveland. Although she graduated from Dexter, she became a Chelsea Bulldog as a teacher and volleyball coach.

Cleveland found the Side Out Foundation, which allowed all of the proceeds to go out to others in the community fighting breast cancer. While all of this is near and dear to both Cleveland and Atkinson’s hearts, the first event was the most emotional.

“At the first one it was announced that the Dig Pink games were started for me,” Atkinson said. “While my name wasn’t said, it was still very special to me.”

After 11 years of Dig Pink, Atkinson has only missed one game. In 2017, there was a twist on this event. Even though this event has always been about breast cancer, Chelsea was battling cancer on their own team. One of Chelsea’s freshman players was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. When Dexter hosted this year, along with having pink everywhere, there were also accents of teal covering the gym as well.

“The girls felt more connected by suporting her, because it was a girl their own age battling cancer,” Dexter varsity volleyball coach D’Ann Dunn said.

Chelsea’s teams also had tints of teal in their hair. Teal is the color of the ribbon representing ovarian cancer, and by accenting the gym with teal both teams demonstrated support for Chelsea’s freshman. By doing small things like this, it shows that both Dexter and Chelsea have come together as one community through a strong rivalry for two tremendous causes.

“It makes the girls think outside themselves,” Dunn said. “It makes them think about what does the pink stand for and how many people are truly affected by breast cancer.

“It gets them to think about,’yes, we get to play volleyball, but there are so many people suffering in this world.”