Anna Buttell, with hands crossed, hangs out with friends Saturday at the Coaches vs. Cancer event.

Thank heavens for little girls!

Little boys are swell, too, but a couple of girls captured my imagination this weekend as I tried to wrap my mind around the local phenomenon of Coaches vs. Cancer.

One had her grandma wrapped around her finger. Mary Keefer was groping for serious words Saturday night when her 3-year-old granddaughter wandered up. Keefer’s face lit up as she picked up Berklee and lost her thought.

And that’s what Coaches vs. Cancer is all about. I wrote a lot in October to raise awareness about breast cancer. There were stats to share, treatments to explain and gritty stories about women losing their hair, losing their lunch and struggling to not lose hope.

Keefer never did, buoyed by her community. She got to see her tall sons grow into men. Now she’s watching her toddler grandkids grow up.

Will Buttell talks about his daughter’s cancer battle as if it were yesterday. Anna wasn’t even Berklee’s age, and Will and Christine might have wondered for a while whether she’d make it that far.

Ten years ago I watched the brave little girl lose her hair to chemo. Will shaved his head, as many loving dads do to show their kids they’re not battling this monster alone. I thought about shaving my head, too, but I didn’t know the Buttells very well back then. Besides that, it wouldn’t have been much of a sacrifice.

I’ve grown to know the family well, and Will and I have run together in the Cancer Relay. Anna has a lot of energy, her friends will tell you, and she needs it to stay sane between two brothers. She also looks forward to cancer survivor camp and Creighton basketball camp every summer.

She’s dreamed about playing for the Bluejays, but first things first. She wants to wear the black and gold of the Panthers. She also wants to wear pink on a special night each year.

That special night has become a wintertime wow, about six months either way from the town’s other big event, the Knoxville Nationals. The money raised raises community pride, to be sure, but it also makes a difference. You can spend all day at the high school bidding on silent auction items, eating barbecue and sugar cookies, watching old-timers like Will play basketball and cheering for not-so-little girls and boys in the games that count.

It all counts, of course. It adds up to $500,000 and counting over 10 years. The only things Coach Jim Uitermarkt lost Saturday night were his game face and a little composure as big checks and bigger cheers filled the gym.

Life gives no promises, so there’s no telling whether Uitermarkt might someday coach a point guard named Buttell. But there’s a chance. Such chances are why games are played, especially this game on this night.

It’s so grandmas get a chance to see their grandkids. It’s so toddlers grow up to live their dreams.

Thank heavens!

Pat Finan is the managing editor of the Journal-Express. He can be reached in the newsroom at 641-842-2155 or via email at pfinan@journalexpress.net.

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