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'Cats fight cancer

February 22, 2009|By BOB PARASILITI

WILLIAMSPORT -- Cheerleading has been a passion for Katie Stains.

"She has been cheering ever since she started with the (Williamsport Bears of the Washington County Junior Football League)," said Kirsten Stains, her mother. "She'd have given anything to be here today. She loved cheering basketball."

On Saturday, basketball took time to cheer for Katie.

The town of Williamsport turned out in force to watch a pair of alumni basketball games consisting of 40 years worth of Wildcats players in "'Cats Fighting Cancer," a benefit for Katie Stains and Josh Forsythe, a pair of Williamsport students with the disease.

On the surface, it was a reason for the players to turn out and play together once again. There were hugs and hand slaps as the former Wildcats trickled in and started warming up to play. It became the games of a lifetime for two of their own.

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"A lot of these guys played here and stayed around," said Alan Moore, a 1996 graduate. "Most of the others are just a phone call away. It's close-knit, but anytime you have a cause, we rally around it."

A capacity crowd showed up in the Williamsport High School gym for the event, which started out as a spur-of-the-moment whim of former Wildcats coach Kevin Murphy. Murphy, a cancer survivor, heard of Stains' and Forsythe's plights while at a Williamsport game in January and immediately pitched it to Moore and his brother, Brad. It was an amazing turnaround of planning in a short time to get an amazing turnout.

"People were coming in at 5 p.m. just to make sure they got a seat," Murphy said. "There are some people here to see their kids play, but there are a lot here because they are basketball fans and Williamsport fans. But they are here for the cause."

Basketball was just the latest event the Williamsport community has pulled together to help Stains and now Forsythe.

It started with a recent pancake breakfast. On Saturday, it was a wide array of donated equipment and concessions, bake sales, memorabilia tables and raffles, all to benefit the two families. Murphy said $2,500 had been raised through sponsor donations before the event started, and more than $8,000 was raised overall.

"This is all amazing," Kirsten Stains said. "How cool is this ... to have all these people come together for a cause while doing something they love to do?"

Katie Stains, who was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in December, was unable to attend the games because her blood readings won't allow her to be out in public. Forsythe was just discharged from the hospital after having surgery on a lung.

"They are very grateful for all the help," said Susie Butts, a family friend of Ann Forsythe, Josh's mother. "(Ann) is overcome by the outpouring of love. That's what we love about Williamsport. Whenever something happens, the people here come out to support it."

The basketball wasn't as polished as it had been in the old days, but it was entertaining. Most of the players were a bit slower and a bit thicker, but they all were out in their comfortable element with a cause. Players now living up and down the East Coast came in for a chance to play.

In the game with alumni from 1996 to 2008, the Blue team defeated the White team, 74-70. Andy Artz, a 1997 graduate, led the Blue team with 18 points, while Ryan Acre, a 1998 graduate, had 15 points for the White team.

In the game with alumni from 1969 to 1995, the White team defeated the Blue team, 58-31. Jimmy Powell, a 1975 graduate, led the White team with 10 points, while Danny McVicker, a 1986 graduate, had seven points for the Blue team.

"I had a blast when we had the alumni game in 2001," said Matt Porac, a 1999 graduate. "Now, I'm a first-year resident in Stamford, Conn. My older brother played for Williamsport and he called me about this. I lucked out and had this weekend off, otherwise, I would have missed this. Things happen for a reason, though. The cause is bigger than the game. We are all here and it's just sweeter because of the cause."

The cancer cause brought back some of the old excitement of being a Wildcat.

"We cherished every Friday night," said Chris Barton, a 2000 graduate now living in Greensboro, N.C. "All these guys have a great connection. My mom called me to tell me about how good this cause was. It made me want to come back, especially in these tough times. It's good to help."

For the Wildcats, it was all about a sense of pride, giving back to the community and to Murphy, their former coach.

"Today, it's all about people who have cancer," Moore said. "But it could have been for anything. We'd all be there for him."

While the games were being played, some of the Williamsport cheerleaders came out to cheer. Kirsten Stains, the group's assistant coach, said one of the things she wanted for the evening was to have the cheerleaders perform.

"I've talked to so many people during this," Kirsten Stains said. "It's unbelievable what this town has done for us. It has given me new hope and faith."

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