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Play for Pink night brings Missouri soccer players and fans together

Saturday, September 17, 2011 | 12:33 a.m. CDT; updated 12:45 a.m. CDT, Saturday, September 17, 2011

COLUMBIA — Judith McKenney, a 69-year-old resident of Columbia, does not attend soccer games as often as she did when her son James used to play. On Friday night, though, she was among the first group of fans who arrived to see the Missouri women's soccer team play No. 9 Florida at Walton Stadium.

In what turned out to be the highest attendance of the season, more than 950 fans showed up to cheer for the Tigers, who had won their past seven games. And they did cheer a lot, shouting and laughing throughout the whole game.

But the fans were there to show another kind of support, too. A hard-fought game that ended in a 2-0 loss for the Tigers served as the background for Play for Pink night, an effort to raise funds for breast cancer research. The Missouri players and coaching staff wore pink uniforms. The team also gave away pink T-shirts to the first 150 fans at the game. Many other fans brought pink outfits of their own.

Wearing a pink jacket, McKenney sang the national anthem before the game. She hit all the notes in the difficult song, but it was hard to miss the occasional trembling in her voice.

"When they asked me to sing, I was absolutely delighted," said McKenney, who has battled and defeated cancer on two separate occasions. "It was a real thrill for me to have this opportunity to represent all the survivors of breast cancer. It was extremely emotional."

A schoolteacher for more than 25 years, McKenney enjoyed Friday's game with her husband Thomas McKenney, a professor in the MU School of Music. They cheered and watched the game closely, occasionally standing up and shouting on the Tigers.

Judith McKenney said she also enjoyed the fact that many male fans at the stadium were wearing pink outfits. Dozens of men of all ages wore pink T-shirts and scarves during the game.

"It just thrills me to see the young men and the older guys wearing the pink," McKenney said, laughing. "It reminds me of those pink shoes that the guys used to wear in the 1950s. I think it's wonderful that they do that. It takes a unique young man to go ahead and do that. That's what makes it so neat."

The event was also special for several of the Missouri soccer players.

Freshman midfielder Lauren Flynn's mother, Lucie, died of cancer in 2005. For Flynn, who has been injured for the past few days, the game was an opportunity to honor her mom's memory.

"I didn't play tonight," Flynn said. "But this game meant a lot to me. Just watching my team go out, play for my mom and support me was a big deal. It was really cool to watch."

And Flynn also felt the support of her family. Her father, Terry Flynn, came from St. Louis to watch Friday's game.

"This is as special night for my daughter and I," Terry Flynn said. "Obviously, cancer has touched our family in a tough way, so anything like this is extremely important. I think it's great that Mizzou is doing these type of events."

Tina Hu, junior defender Allison Hu's mother, beat breast cancer 6 years ago and went to the game to support her daughter.

"It (Friday's game) means a lot," Tina Hu said, a smile on her face. "Allison says she's proud of me, but I'm really proud of her, too. It was just such an emotional game. Cancer affects a lot of people, so this type of event is really good. Especially because it's a girls' sport. The girls themselves need to be aware."

Despite the loss, everybody at the game seemed to see a very good side to Friday night's event.

"I'm so pleased that the University of Missouri does this with many of their sports programs," Judith McKenney said. "It does bring awareness to the issue of cancer, which affects so many women of all ages."


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