College Sports

Winthrop's volleyball team does its part for breast cancer awareness

Winthrop's volleyball team will participate in the Dig for the Cure on Friday, marking the fifth year coach Sally Polhamus has organized the event.

Focused on breast cancer, the game raises money and awareness for the Susan G. Komen For the Cure Foundation.

The idea behind Dig for the Cure came from Lisa Marston, the former volleyball coach for the Charlotte 49ers. Marston's mother is a breast cancer survivor.

Marston started Dig for the Cure with her program at Charlotte. It grew to include the Atlantic 10 Conference. Now, the effort has grown to close to 200 programs across the country in all divisions and high schools.

"Most every person has been affected in some way ... and so many people responded that we decided to expand it and get the rest of the country involved," Marston says on the Charlotte 49ers Web site.

Winthrop is one of the many that participate. Polhamus is spearheading an effort to make it a Big South-wide undertaking. Cancer is personal for her.

"Two of my sisters had it. Cancer has affected some of our players' families," Polhamus said. She pointed out that one in eight women will have to deal with the disease in their lifetime.

The idea is expanding. Some schools are sending proceeds to organizations that benefit many types of cancer.

Winthrop played UNC Asheville recently at the Winthrop Coliseum. Bulldogs coach Julie Torbett battled thyroid cancer and won.

A press release regarding Winthrop's game made it into the hands of Marcia Kunkel a couple of years back. Kunkel coaches volleyball at South Carroll High School in Winfield, Md. The press release was sent to Will C. Franklin, sports copy desk chief in The Herald's sports department. The two were friends from college and are still good friends today.

Kunkel, who had leukemia, is also a cancer survivor.

She approached her athletics director with the idea, and they have had a "Dig" the last two years running.

"The girls were very excited about it. We have a parent who is a graphic designer. He did T-shirts for us," Kunkel said.

Kunkel, 32, earned her undergraduate degree from Francis Marion. She had just finished her first semester at New York University and was back home in Maryland with her parents in January 2001.

She was bothered by a stubborn sinus infection in New York before coming home. A friend referred her to a doctor in the city. Since she hadn't been to that office before, they ran a full physical.

She remembers getting the news.

"It was the Monday after the Super Bowl," she said. Her favorite team, the Baltimore Ravens, had won the game the night before. Her father was at the game.

"I got a call from the doctor. He said there was a problem with my blood count," Kunkel recalled.

What was supposed to be a fun night hearing all about the Super Bowl turned out to be tear-filled.

On Oct. 6, South Carroll held its second Dig for the Cure.

"We had a pretty good turnout," Kunkel said. Her team won the state championship last year and is off to a 6-2 start this season.

Many high schools in Charlotte are involved in the program.

Polhamus said the game is as much about raising awareness as it is money. She made a big impression on Kunkel, and the "Digs" keep growing.

For more information on the upcoming match at Winthrop, go to or the Dig for the Cure Web site at: