Playing with Purpose

by Aaron Garcia

West Meck mother Amy McGee (left) is one of the organizers of the Hawks’ Strike Out Cancer game, April 8. The event will honor a pair of West Meck families battling the disease; the Rawls family – (second from left) father Lang, son Langdon and mother Gina and the Shaw family – (second from right) mother Trish and son Dalton.

Game days have become a welcome distraction for Gina Rawls, Trish Shaw and their families. Their teenage sons, Dalton Shaw and Langdon Rawls, are baseball players for West Mecklenburg High, and things are going well for the Hawks. West Meck has a 9-3 overall record, including a 5-1 mark in the MEGA 7 3A/4A conference, with a huge week of games ahead, culminating in a matchup with the league’s other top contender, Charlotte Catholic.

But the Friday, April 8, game against Charlotte Catholic will almost be secondary for everyone in attendance, as both schools have decided to team up for the Strike Out Cancer game. There will be fried fish and fried chicken meals for $8 per plate, as well as baked goods and T-shirts for sale. Fans will also be able to take photos with a live hawk from the Latta Plantation.

Trish Shaw was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2008, a year after her husband, Jimmy, died of the same disease. Gina Rawls was also diagnosed in 2008, but she was stricken with pancreatic cancer. The two women have battled the disease with gusto since their respective diagnoses, and Hawks coach Mike ­Carpino has watched how it has affected them and their families. At the beginning of the season, he decided he needed to help.

“I wanted to be able to say that we didn’t let this happen without a fight,” Carpino said.

The original plan was to raise money to send each family on a vacation, to provide some time away from all the distractions and treatments and just spend some precious time together. Carpino started to spread word about the idea, and it quickly snowballed. Originally, the game and fundraising was intended to be a surprise for the families, but the support grew so exponentially that the organizers didn’t have a choice but to share the plan with Trish and Gina.

Trish said the tremendous outpouring of support has been humbling.

“Whenever you hear of people doing something like this, you always think, ‘Well, I’m really not worthy of such a giant thing,’” she explained. “I’m trying to look at it as trying to get the word out that cancer isn’t a death sentence; you have to learn to live with it. You want to show your kids that you have to live through the hard times.

“There are two sets of numbers on a tombstone,” Trish continued. “There’s a beginning number when someone was born, and there’s an ending number where someone died. In the middle, there’s a dash. I’m living my dash now.”

The support has also taken the sons by surprise.

“The community wanted to help make it so much bigger than it had to be and support our moms for who they are,” said Langdon Rawls. “It shows how much everyone cares for them.

“It’s really been so much of a support to help me and Dalton. It pushes us through it.”

Which is exactly what Carpino wanted to convey with the event.

“How do you deal with these things and move on and still be successful?” Carpino said. “It’s so important that we try to stay together as a family so everyone knows the importance of being together.”

Dalton Shaw added that he’s been impressed with the response from Charlotte Catholic. The Cougars will join West Meck in wearing “Strike Out Cancer” shirts during Friday’s game; Charlotte Catholic will wear red, while the Hawks will wear black.

“I respect Catholic for that because they realize it’s more than just a game out here, that there’s other stuff going on,” he said. “You step between the lines, it’s baseball. But outside the lines, there’s more important stuff.”

And as for the vacations the fundraising was originally intended to provide?

“The mommas wouldn’t stand for it,” said Amy McGee, one of the event’s planners and mother of Hawks catcher Nick McGee. “They don’t want the attention on them. They want to help other cancer patients who are going through difficult times.”

It seems a good ball game is all the escape Trish and Gina want. Instead of vacations, the two women are in the process of deciding which charity will benefit from the event’s proceeds.

Trish and Gina have been friends for around 15 years and spent countless hours together on ball fields across the state. Gina was there to help Trish when her husband died, as was much of the Mountain Island community since Jimmy was a respected youth coach in the area.

Because of that, Gina said, there’s no better setting for such an event as a ball game featuring their two sons.

“I think that’s what has kept us going,” Rawls said. “The sports, the camaraderie – you couldn’t ask for a better backing.”

Did you like this? Share it:

Leave a Reply