'Raising hope and awareness': UM softball to hold annual academy for breast cancer research

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

When the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of spring sports last year, Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins was determined not to allow the Michigan Softball Academy to be sidelined.

The academy, now in its 12th year, raises money in partnership with the American Cancer Society for breast cancer awareness and research. The softball program has raised $1 million, adding nearly $100,000 last year when the academy went virtual.

Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins

It will be virtual again Thursday night and already $57,000 has been raised — the goal was $50,000 — not counting money made from a live auction that closes Saturday night. Michigan, which has wrapped up the Big Ten regular-season champion and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament, then kicks off a final four-game series Friday against Rutgers. The annual “Pink Game” is 4 p.m. Friday at Alumni Field.

“I think more than anything, it gave us a purpose,” Hutchins said of continuing the academy last year. “As I told my kids, cancer is still here, and champions adjust — that's one of our favorite sayings — and now we're gonna make this adjustment. I think they had fun with it. Our kids really do enjoy the academy. They enjoy participating and engaging with the public.

“From the get-go, my whole theory of the pandemic is the pandemic isn't happening to us, the pandemic happened. We have to now figure out a way to move forward and not sit and wallow in what we don't get to have. If we have our health, we have the most important thing. So we immediately made sure we reframed that we're not going to sit around and feel bad because we don't get to play because some people don't get to have their family around them.”

Hutchins said they’ve been sensitive to the impact the pandemic has had for so many.

“Times are tough for a lot of people, so we're really emphasizing raising hope and awareness,” she said. “You can give us anything and it's meaningful. And we just are trying to keep the message alive.”

Typically, the academy is held at Alumni Field and Oosterbaan Field House. The participants, usually about 200, go through the different drills like hitting and pitching and later listen to cancer patients and survivors share their stories.

Last year, the players gave virtual tutorials on playing their positions.

“I literally had tears the next day (when) I was on a Big Ten call with my colleagues and I told them about the academy. I kind of broke down because I was so overwhelmed that we still had this virtual academy,” Hutchins said. “We raised a couple dollars short of $100,000 in the middle of the pandemic when everything was shut down. It's a way for the community to really engage with our kids. That's the draw for the community, but I just couldn't believe it. I was just overjoyed.”

This year, the softball players are inviting participants into their homes where they will show off their cooking skills.

“They put together some of their favorite college meals," Hutchins said. "It will be quite amusing."

The hour-long academy offers fundraising team members a chance to go one-on-one with the players, as well. There are 100 signed up for a team and participants can still be added.

For Hutchins, the academy is an important way to help fund cancer research while also giving her players lessons she hopes they carry with them.

“I really believe that everybody's purpose in life is to leave this world better than you found it,” Hutchins said. “I want our kids to understand that, as you get a little self-consumed, if we didn't get a hit for a weekend and we lost the game, we can all get pretty self-absorbed. There are things that are so much bigger than sport, and they have a chance to use their platform to contribute to the community. It's important that in athletics we all find our way to contribute, not just have people contribute to us.”

Hutchins is grateful the academy has been able to carry on virtually during the pandemic and hopes to return to Alumni Field next year.

“We've been able to raise a good chunk of change, but it's a never-ending process,” Hutchins said. “Until cancer is eradicated, they need funding.”

To donate or bid on auction items, visit the Michigan Softball Academy website at www.msoftballacademy.org.

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis