Benefield: Beautiful Game steps up for breast cancer awareness

Becky Nelson is escorted out by family friend and Montgomery soccer player Carson Wyatt during a special ceremony in tribute to women with breast cancer held between the boys and girls soccer games at Montgomery High School, Tuesday, October 7, 2014.(Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Becky Nelson is escorted out by family friend and Montgomery soccer player Carson Wyatt during a special ceremony in tribute to women with breast cancer held between the boys and girls soccer games at Montgomery High School, Tuesday, October 7, 2014.(Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

By KERRY BENEFIELD

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Montgomery High defender Carson Wyatt saved the day Tuesday night, but it wasn’t on the soccer field.

In a night loaded with some of the best high school soccer area folks could ask for, the Montgomery Vikings boys and girls varsity teams hosted the Maria Carrillo Pumas.

The Viking boys dispatched Carrillo 1-0 and the Carrillo girls returned the favor with a 2-0 win over their crosstown rivals. But the most powerful moments were between games.

The squads from both teams lined up at the center of the field as the names of nine breast cancer survivors were called out and the women were escorted to the center of the field.

That’s where Wyatt stepped in.

Survivor Becky Nelson didn’t have an escort. She hadn’t realized that she needed one. And then there appeared Wyatt, a family friend, fresh from his team’s 1-0 victory over the Pumas. Still sweating, he stepped in and took Nelson’s arm.

“It’s just a really good cause,” he said. “With what they have to go through, I feel like we should give back.”

“I just thought it was really sweet, to be so thoughtful,” Nelson said. In years past, players had walked survivors to the center of the field to be honored by the boys and girls squads from both teams. This year family members did the honors.

(See more photos from the games and ceremony)

Carol Abramson was walked out by two of her children.

“It makes me feel loved and supported and it makes me proud that my kids will stand up,” she said.

That’s the idea, said Vikings boys head coach Jon Schwann.

Schwann started the tradition — a halftime ceremony during a doubleheader between two of local soccer’s fiercest rivals — after seeing other schools do similar events but imagining a better version. Schwann does it to honor his grandmother who was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was 14.

It’s evolved over time both in how the ceremony is conducted and where the funds generated from ticket sales and concession revenues end up.

For three years, the night has benefited Casting for Recovery, a local branch of a national non-profit organization that sends women on all-expenses-paid weekends to learn fly fishing.

Fly fishing?

Turns out that the casting motion simulates therapeutic movement recommended for women who have had breast surgery. The rhythmic motion is both soothing and healing, participants say.

But it’s more than that.

“It’s being out there in the water and seeing how much there is to enjoy in life,” Nelson, a retreat veteran, said.

Rene Markarian is a breast cancer survivor who was so moved by her personal experience with Casting for Recovery, she now volunteers with the non-profit group. She helps organize the annual soccer night for breast cancer awareness and she, too, was honored Tuesday night.

“Getting in the water and doing something you have never done before is really powerful,” she said. “Really powerful.”

“The water is rushing by and some people liken it to taking your cares away and taking your worries away,” she said. “It has a different meaning for everyone.”

It might seem an odd pairing — a heated soccer rivalry and an emotional tribute to survivors of cancer.

But to see the women and their families walk to the center of the field Tuesday night is to know that the worlds are intertwined. There, walking, was Anne Martinez, the office manager at Yulupa Elementary where many of Montgomery’s students attended school. There, too, was Jan Smith Billing, a retired Santa Rosa City Schools administrator who worked at Montgomery, and there was Dena McDonald, the wife of Pat McDonald, the girls varsity head coach for the Vikings.

All with their own battles with cancer but all being honored by friends and strangers.

“It was very, very sweet,” Nelson said. It was hard to tell if she meant Wyatt’s gesture or the whole ceremony.

Or both.

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com and on Twitter @benefield.