Before the Park and Woodbury girls basketball game on Friday night, the two teams stood together for a bigger cause than basketball. They stood together for a cause that impacts too many lives.
The Wolfpack and Royals were standing alongside each other for their fight in finding a cure for cancer. At Park High School, the entire gym was filled with pink shirts and socks and pants as the two teams were apart of Coaches vs. Cancer night.
Park and Woodbury wore the same pink t-shirts for warm ups and they said "United We Fight."
"It's an emotional night for all of us because we know cancer affects many people around this country and world," said Park head coach Stephanie Tolkinen. "I'm just so proud of these players for raising money for tonight and playing for a bigger cause than basketball."
The Park girls basketball team has had an annual tradition for having a Coaches vs. Cancer night. The event has changed over the course of history, but for over the last at least five years, it's been a cancer awareness night.
With this event, Park always has events leading up to the game. The Wolfpack girls go around school and in the Cottage Grove community to receive pledges and donations towards the cause.
The players have a free throw-a-thon during the week and receive pledge money after doing the free throws.
"Those free throws are the most pressure situations than anything else," said Park's Addy Walton. "Each basket made, you understand it's more donations coming in for an amazing cause and you want to make sure each basket is made."
Also, the girls will sell different items each year that teachers and students can purchase at lunches and such. The money earned from this event is given to the total donations.
Once everything is done during the week, a check is presented to individual before the game. That individual is selected by the Park girls basketball coaching staff with the help of the players too.
The individual is usually part of the Park or Cottage Grove community and is facing the challenges of battling through a form of cancer.
This year's recipient was Megan Diediker. She is a math teacher at Park High School and has been involved with the Park girls basketball team for a number of years.
"It was an easy choice for us to select Megan," Tolkinen said. "She has impacted this Park and Cottage Grove community so much and we were so happy to select her."
Once the Coaches vs. Cancer game was scheduled for the Friday night game against Woodbury, the Royals head coach Megan Kirchenwitz wanted to be a part of this night as well.
"This is such a special night and we wanted to help as much as we could," Kirchenwitz said. "Once we heard Megan was selected, it made it more personal for me and this team."
Many of the Park and Woodbury girls know Diediker because she's been around the girls basketball scene since she became a Park teacher almost 10 years ago.
Diediker and Kirchenwitz went to college together and also coached together right after college.
Before the game started on Friday, the two teams came together with Diediker in the middle of the court to take a picture and present a check to her and her family.
"We hope the check is able to help her with an upcoming procedure or anything she needs during this process," said Park's Saren Croker. "She's been a big part of our lives over the last few years and she deserves everything from tonight."
Diediker was filled with many different emotions on Friday night as she was presented with the check. She appreciates the donation, but to her it's not about the money. She realized so much more on Friday that she will carry with her for a long time.
The thing she realized on Friday is how much support she has behind her, while fighting this battle. She might be only one person, but she knows there's a village behind her ready to fight right alongside of her.
Diediker was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall and has gone through chemotherapy treatments and she's been recovering better with each day. She said she's had some incredible doctors that caught the cancer early in the stages and she couldn't be more thankful for everything they've done to try and make the process easier for her during this time.
While she was battling cancer, Diediker would come back to the Park gym and help coach each team throughout this winter. Tolkinen said she loved having her back because she always had a smile on her face and she always loved being around the players.
Diediker said she couldn't' thank Tolkinen enough for working around her schedule with doctor's appointments and such along with a couple young kids. Tolkinen made sure Diediker was part of the team and she couldn't be more appreciative of what that meant for her and her family.
"Friday night was bigger than I anticipated and everyone involved work incredibly hard," Diediker said. "It's hard to explain the emotions that come when you realize how big the village of support is behind you during a journey like this. It makes everything a little less scary and all the more reason to beat it."
The two schools combined raised over five thousand dollars on Friday night, which brought tears to many in the gym. The fans, players and coaches realize how important this night is and how it brings the Woodbury and Cottage Grove communities together more.
"It's unbelievable to see two teams come together for a bigger cause than just basketball," said Woodbury's Carley West. "I'm glad I was part of this night and I hope this event continues into the future."
Tolkinen said she loved having the Woodbury girls participate in the week's events and hopes that this tradition can continue in the future. Kirchenwitz also agreed that it was an amazing night and wants to see this grow in future years.
"Basketball has always been such a big part of my life," Diediker said. "Since I was in third grade, all the way through playing in college and coaching at Park has been no different. It's been the once place where everything else in the entire world stops and I just get to play the game I love so much."