Jim Clouse’s mother, Carol, and Kokomo’s Ashley Ploughe throw out the first pitch of the first annual Western versus Kokomo Cancer Game held on May 18, 2012.                     					Courtesy of Jim Clouse
Jim Clouse’s mother, Carol, and Kokomo’s Ashley Ploughe throw out the first pitch of the first annual Western versus Kokomo Cancer Game held on May 18, 2012. Courtesy of Jim Clouse

Getting the news you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer is something that you are never prepared to hear. Trying to find a silver lining is virtually impossible. However, in 2012, two softball coaches did just that and the Western High School versus Kokomo High School Varsity Softball Cancer Game began. 

“That year, Jim Clouse’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and I had a player on my team with cancer. That’s how the idea got started,” said former Kokomo Head Coach Lisa Tate. “(Jim and I) had become friends competing against each other. We share the same passion for the community and softball and the girls. We started talking about when his mom was diagnosed, and I shared with him about my player getting the news. That’s when we decided to come together.”

The First Annual Cancer Game was in 2012, with Clouse’s mother, Carol, and Tate’s player, Ashley Plough being recognized and throwing out the first pitch of the game, which became a tradition. Each year since, a valued member of each team is recognized for their fight with cancer and the teams surround them to let them know they have support. 

“I came up with the slogan ‘No one fights alone’ because we wanted to fight as a team, as a community, as a softball family. They’ve kept it. They’ve been using it all these years,” said Tate.

“We always had someone special from each school throw out the first pitch,” Clouse said. “I had a player one of the years whose mom had breast cancer. Kokomo had a teacher with cancer.”

They made a big deal out of the game, even though for conference play and the tournament, it had little significance to the overall outcome of their seasons. The local rivalry and kinship between the players elevated the game and made it very competitive.

Clouse said that for a few years, the game would be played on a Monday and conference play for the two schools would begin the following day. That meant the two teams would have a battle on the field.

“We (both) needed to win that game,” he said. “It was always, ‘How long are you going to let your number one pitcher go?’ You would start your number one and think if I could get a lead, I can get her out. But who was going to pull their number one first?”

“It is always a good rivalry,” continued Tate. “The competitive nature of the teams came together and joined forces. The popularity of the rivalry gave us a platform because we wanted to raise money for cancer.”

The first year, the teams sold teal colored T-shirts and bracelets at both schools and the Markland Mall to raise money. Each school donated a portion of the money from game admissions and concessions. They presented a check for close to $2,000 to the American Cancer Society at the Western and Kokomo varsity volleyball game the in fall.

This year, the annual game will be the first varsity softball contest to be held at Kokomo Municipal Stadium, a giant step forward for the game and the community.

“It’s kind of a breakthrough to get the use of the stadium for the girls,” Clouse said. “Hopefully this will be a stepping stone for more (games) and be a showcase so that IU Kokomo can see the passion of softball fans.”

“We are encouraging everyone who can be there, including league teams. Our middle school team at Western, we chose not to play that day so they could come,” he continued.

The game will start at 6 p.m. at Kokomo Municipal Stadium. This will be the second time the community-purchased fastpitch fence and softball mound will be used for a softball game. The first games held at the stadium were last fall when a travel tournament was held.

“It’s huge to us that it’s going to be at Municipal Stadium this year because we pushed so much for these things in the community and keeping girls’ sports moving forward in the community. For this game to be at the stadium, it really warms my heart. I’m so excited about it,” said Tate. 

Tate said she hopes the legacy of this game will continue for a long time.

“It’s just a county game but it’s going to be played in a great venue. Their competitive hearts are all in this game. Both teams want to win,” she said. “Anytime they can highlight friends or family members affected brings it home more.”

As far as carrying on the legacy, Kokomo Coach Mike Susong and Western Coach Chris Tuberty are honored to continue the tradition.  

Susong said, “The game gives our girls a chance to give back to the community and promote awareness. Unfortunately, many of us have been affected by this awful disease in some way. Through this game, we want to promote civic engagement, and show that while we may be rivals on the diamond, we are teammates in the battle against cancer.”

Tuberty added, “The Cancer Awareness game is an important part of our season.  Both Kokomo and Western have had many players, family members, friends and fans affected by different types of cancer.  It’s truly our privilege to play for them on that night and continue to raise awareness for all types of cancer. I hope the entire community will show up to Kokomo Municipal Stadium on April 30.  It’s not about Kokomo or Western, it’s about supporting the night and those that are affected by cancer and their families in our lives.”