Pitt women’s basketball will play in a tough matchup against No. 18 Duke this Sunday, but unlike a normal game, the focus will be on something much bigger than the sport.
The game coincides with Pink the Petersen, an event that focuses on breast cancer awareness by recognizing and honoring survivors and their families.
Pink the Pete has been held annually for the last 11 years and frequently draws the largest crowd of the women’s basketball season. Attendance usually averages about 4,000 to 4,200, turning the Petersen Events Center crowd from its usual blue and gold hue to a pink one.
“You know, it’s just uplifting,” junior center Kalista Walters, who is playing in her third Pink the Pete game with the Panthers, said. “The atmosphere is great, they’re always loud and very supportive of us. I think we connect with them because we are also women so it’s a big impact.”
Redshirt junior Yacine Diop said the event carries an impact even for those who don’t have a connection to the disease.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Diop said. “Personally I don’t have any family member who has breast cancer, but I feel like it touches all women [and] girls, who have it or not.”
While it’s only a one-day event, the planning process is extensive and takes up most of the year. Jennifer Tuscano, who worked in academic support in the Pitt athletic department for 10 years before working the last three as associate athletic director, has spent months planning the event.
“It’s a team effort,” Tuscano said. “We all meet on a weekly basis and we’ve been planning Pink the Pete ever since last year’s event ended. So it’s just something we continue to work on and plan every year.”
Tuscano singled out one member of the team that helps put the event together.
“It’s really led by [Tricia Adamczyk],” Tuscano said. “She’s our marketing contact for women’s basketball and she’s instrumental in pretty much every aspect of the planning process.”
Adamczyk is responsible for getting in contact with the Susan G. Komen foundation and oversees selection of the breast cancer survivors who are honored at the game each year.
Tuscano, Adamczyk and their team decided to add a personal touch by selecting breast cancer survivors with connections to people on the athletic department staff, basketball staff and the student-athletes. Veteran WTAE-TV anchor and Pitt alumni Kelly Frey will be one of the survivors attending this year’s game as she continues to undergo treatment for breast cancer after being diagnosed in March 2017.
“It’s usually a combination of that, either Susan G. Komen selects, or we’ll try to find somebody that’s connected to our women’s basketball staff or our student athletes,” Tuscano said.
The game usually takes place in February, but the team likes to hold the event during a Sunday game each year. Looking at the rest of Pitt’s schedule, the team will play only one more home game on a Sunday, which is Feb. 4 — Super Bowl Sunday.
When planning ahead, Tuscano and her team decided to avoid competing with the Super Bowl, not only because of a possible Steelers appearance, but to make sure survivors were able to make the game.
Attendees will be offered more than just the normal basketball game experience, with additional events including pre-game activities like face painting, inflatables and airbrush artists. There will also be a chance for fans to get autographs from the players and staff after the game.
The Panthers also wear their pink uniforms in this game — the only time this season they feature the alternate apparel. A new Pink the Petersen T-shirt will also be given out to fans at the game, while supplies last.
Pitt is not the only school to do an event like this. Penn State has its own Pink Zone event, which it hosts every year, and West Virginia organizes the Play4Kay event annually as well.
“As we look around the arena, there is probably the majority of people that have been touched or have been affected by cancer in one way or the other. I think that’s the majority,” Tuscano said. “So it’s important for us to raise awareness and funds for that.”
The organizers try to make Pink the Pete as much about the survivors as possible, which includes involving families and loved ones.
“Probably the most important thing, when you look at this, is our recognition of them as survivors at halftime on the court,” Tuscano said. “That’s usually a big piece of what we do, is that recognition and certainly honoring the survivors and their family.”
Pitt introduced a new tradition of pairing a different survivor with each member of the starting five for pregame introductions last year. The team plans do this again this year and every year going forward.
It is a scene that both players and the athletic department agreed is now an integral part of Pink the Pete.
“It’s just really touching when you start and have one of the breast cancer survivors walk out with you,” Walters said. “That’s the main thing, because it’s personal contact, and you get to hear about their story, and like I said before it’s very inspiring.”
According to the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s official website, the organization has been around since 1982 and has raised more than $1.6 billion for cancer screening and $800 million for research. In Pittsburgh, the organization hosts an annual Race for the Cure which raised more than $500,000 last year.
One of the most important parts of Pink the Pete for the organizers is ensuring breast cancer survivors, and four guests each, can attend the game for free.
“It’s an opportunity for us to honor and recognize not only the survivors but their families, because they play a key role in that process as well,” Tuscano said.
The Panthers will take on the Blue Devils in the Pink the Pete game at 2 p.m. this Sunday, and will be attempting to break their three-game losing streak in the process.