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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Beyond the Diamond

It all started with an innocent group text - a friend had to put together a charity event for school credit, had chosen the St. Baldrick’s Foundation as her cause to benefit, and needed support and help. That was all it took for the gears in Allison Hill’s head to begin to turn.

Three years earlier, a cousin had gone through serious treatment for neuroblastoma, a type of cancer most commonly found in children under five. It was at that time that Allison says she became much more aware of the effects and horrors of pediatric cancer and wanted to do something.

The Softball Side
As a young, just-beginning player in Illinois, Allison started her career under the tutelage of Staci Silkwood. If that surname sounds familiar, it should; Staci is the mother of Mississippi State breakout hurler Alexis Silkwood. As the two girls grew up as long-time teammates, one excelled in the circle while the other found her niche at the plate.

Allison ended her prep career with her high school's career RBI and home run marks firmly etched with her name atop them. After graduating, she headed to Kankakee Community College. “I just didn’t think I was good enough to go straight to a four-year out of high school,” she says.

At Kankakee, she "just" hit seventeen home runs and posted a .947 slugging percentage, earning first-team all-American honors for her efforts. “My main focus was wanting a place where I could grow as a player,” she would later say. “I wanted a place where I was going to have to play… I was going to have to work for it.”

After a starring role for Kankakee (pronounced just like it’s written), Allison moved to SIU-Edwardsville, finally getting her taste of Division 1 ball. She spent a single season as a Cougar, part of a squad that posted a .729 winning percentage but ended the season in a disappointing loss in the conference tournament final.

Braving the Shave
When the group text arrived, it simply asked for support - volunteers were needed to staff the upcoming event. Those who could donate or ask others to do so would be welcomed. Spreading the word would be appreciated.

Allison was familiar with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and how and why they operate; the leading private funder of childhood cancer research in the nation, they are most famous for their fundraising events that include volunteers dubbed “shavees” who shave their heads in exchange for donations from friends and family members.

The before & after of a $3,500 haircut
(Courtesy: Allie Hill)
It was a moment of legitimate happiness as she responded to the text. “I want to do it,” she said, asking for the event’s details.

For most people, shaving one’s head is a big deal. For someone who had long been part of the “the bigger the hairbow, the better” infamous philosophy of the sport, the decision went many steps beyond just being “big”. It was major. It was “humbling”, Allison says.

“I kind-of spent my whole life hiding behind my hair… and you never realize just how much you do that until you can’t any more. It has been such a learning experience.”

With roughly one month’s time to raise money, Allison set a $2,000 fundraising goal; the motto of many volunteers like Allison is that ‘every penny counts’, but surely an amount such as that would make losing one’s head of hair a bit easier. Thanks to a generous group of donors, that goal became more than $3,500 in literal funds donated, more than 150% of what she had hoped to raise from the first.

April 29th was the day Allison’s head was shaved, and she says it’s been a journey since. With the journey have also come some surprises; "People love my short hair," she says. "Honestly, I didn't expect it, but they do."

While Allison’s fundraising and event have ended, the battle of thousands and hundreds of thousands of kids are just beginning. Statistics show that a child is diagnosed with cancer every two minutes, a staggering statistic that slaps many across the face, as well it should.

Her seven-year-old cousin named Ella was Allison’s inspiration to get involved with the cause and, ultimately, to shave her head. Now in remission after being diagnosed at three years of age, Ella still has to journey four times a year to receive follow-up treatments and make sure the cancer has stayed gone.

Ella is one of the lucky ones, just to still be here. Many parents have to be told that their children will not beat the cancer that afflicts their small bodies.You can be part of the solution and help change this reality. Check out www.stbaldricks.org to find out about one of the organizations that is leading the way to conquering childhood cancer.

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