When Apollo High School plays Daviess County High School in any sport, it is often an anticipated rivalry game — basketball is no exception. However, Friday night, as the Panthers prepared to host the Eagles, there was very little blue or red to be found, instead the entire gymnasium was painted pink.
While Neil Hayden might have been on the floor as the DCHS boy’s head basketball coach, he was also there as Kristi Hayden’s husband. Just three months ago, during the week of Thanksgiving, Kristi found a lump in her breast. After multiple doctor’s appointments and numerous tests, the Haydens received the official diagnosis two weeks before Christmas that Kristi had stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma, grade 3 — breast cancer.
With both of the Haydens dedicating the majority of their working lives to Daviess County Public Schools, it did not take long for word to spread and for the community to rally.
Neil Hayden has been coaching for 19 years, with the last five being at the high school level as head coach. And Neil said, not only has Kristi been incredibly supportive throughout the years, but coaching has become a part of who they are.
“Kristi is the best coach’s wife I’ve ever met — she comes to every game,” Neil said. “It’s kind of been ingrained — it’s who we’ve been. It’s kind of been what we’ve chosen as our ministry.”
That is evident from the impact that Neil and Kristi have had on the students, players and parents at their former and current schools.
When DCHS basketball team mom Julie Stratton spoke with the other parents about how to help the Haydens, the idea for a fundraising T-shirt quickly began to take shape. In anticipation of the upcoming rivalry game, and Neil being a former Apollo High School coach, an AHS vs. DCHS Pink Out game seemed like the perfect solution.
“They’re just such a wonderful family,” Stratton said. “Everybody wants to do something but you don’t know what. We were sitting and talking about things we could do and it grew. We came up with ‘DC and Apollo Unite for the Fight’ and that’s become our motto — so Kristi won’t have to go through this fight alone. None of us as parents want her to feel alone in going through this. This is one way we can support.”
Stratton said she knew of several teachers and community members currently fighting cancer, but, being family and her sons coach, the Haydens held a special place in her heart.
“There are a lot of people fighting things but you try to do what you can for each person,” Stratton said. “With Coach Hayden being so involved with the players — she’s donated so much of her time with her husband. We wanted to do something for her because she donates so much of her time to us.”
DC and Apollo Unite for the Fight
1. The original fundraising goal was to sell 100 T-shirts. Word quickly spread throughout the DCPS community, especially the teachers and staff at Kristi and Neil’s former schools. | Photo by Marc Ray
2. 800 shirts were sold and over $4,000 was raised for the Hayden family. | Photo by Marc Ray
3. Before the game, amongst a backdrop of pink shirts, regardless of school attendance, the DCHS boys team presented Kristi with a keepsake shadow box enclosing a pewter angel and signed jersey. | Photo by Marc Ray
4. DCHS basketball team mom Julie Stratton with Kristi Hayden. | Photo by Marc Ray
The original fundraising goal was to sell 100 T-shirts for $10 and donate the proceeds, after costs and expenses, to the Haydens. Word quickly spread throughout the DCPS community, especially the teachers and staff at Kristi and Neil’s former schools.
“I was impressed by how fantastic Apollo has been also because he (Neil) coached there,” Stratton said. “Apollo sold 200 shirts — so we are going to have a total pink out.”
Before the game, amongst a backdrop of pink shirts, regardless of school attendance, the DCHS boys team presented Kristi with a keepsake shadow box enclosing a pewter angel and signed jersey.
The T-shirts sold out on Wednesday and, before the game Friday, a final tally was taken. Stratton’s initial goal of selling 100 T-shirts was lost in the mix as 800 shirts were sold and over $4,000 was raised for the Hayden family.
Stratton, who was overwhelmed by the community’s generous outpouring of support, said she was not at all surprised.
“It’s been very easy to get help and support,” Stratton said. “They’ve touched so many lives.”