Conway High School volleyball players plan Pink Night

By Tammy Keith Published September 10, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Mark Buffalo

Andrea Bailey-Fournier, assistant coach for the Conway High School volleyball team, stands in Buzz Bolding Arena as the team practices. She initiated Pink Night in 2009 to raise money for cancer research, but now the proceeds go to an individual. Pink Night games will be from 5-9 p.m. Sept. 28 at the arena, and money raised from raffle-ticket sales and a silent auction will go to Savannah Westover, a 13-year-old Conway student with bone cancer.

Eighth-grader Savannah Westover of Conway had for years wanted to play on the school volleyball team, but her dream was deferred after she was diagnosed with cancer in May.

Now the Conway Lady Wampus Cats will play for Savannah. She will be the recipient of the ninth annual Pink Night from 5-9 p.m. Sept. 28 in Buzz Bolding Arena, 2300 Prince St. The junior varsity team will play at 5 p.m. and the varsity team at 6 p.m., both against the North Little Rock Lady Charging Wildcats.

Admission is $1, and everyone is encouraged to wear pink. Raffle tickets, which cost $2, will be for sale in advance from players and at the game, and a silent auction will be conducted. Prizes will include free pizza for a year, box Razorback football seats and more.

Savannah, 13, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, and is in Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock taking chemotherapy treatments.

Her mother, Shannon Westover, said Savannah was on the Raymond and Phyllis Simon Middle School track team, but she had increasing pain when she jumped hurdles. First diagnosed as a pulled muscle, scans and further testing showed that Savannah has cancer in her left pelvis, her sacrum and one vertebra. A new tumor was found in her right femur.

“Now we’re on a research chemotherapy study — on our second round,” Westover said.

She said Savannah loves volleyball and had wanted to try out for the team since fifth grade, but something happened every year to prevent her from playing.

“She couldn’t try out for volleyball because she was sick [this year],” Westover said. “The year before, she had a brown recluse [spider] bite to the face that put her in the hospital. She had the flu and a fever virus that lasted 15 days. She’s been through it.”

Savannah, in a phone interview from her hospital bed, said, “I’m exhausted; I’m in pain. It’s definitely not as bad as when I was on the old chemo.”

The teenager said she enjoys riding horses and visits a ranch in Vilonia. Westover said her daughter is a “big animal lover” and has rescued more than 100 dogs, seven ducks and a horse.

Savannah wanted to try out for the Conway Junior High volleyball team. “I always thought it was a fun sport. My cousin was in volleyball, and I always enjoyed playing with her. I was really looking forward to it,” Savannah said.

She said her family keeps her going. “I lost a lot of my friends after I got diagnosed because I guess they just didn’t know quite what to say,”

Savannah said.

Westover said she was “completely overwhelmed, overjoyed” when she found out Savannah was picked as the recipient of the Pink Night fundraiser.

She said Andrea Bailey-Fournier, assistant coach for the Conway High School team and founder of the event, called to tell her the news.

“I hadn’t heard of [Pink Night] before,” Westover said. “She told me a little bit about what they had done in previous years, and before cancer came into our lives, you have no clue about how many kids are out there who are fighting cancer right now. To be selected as a beneficiary of something like that means that much more.”

September is also National Childhood Cancer Month.

Westover quit her job as a longtime hair stylist at Rumors in Maumelle to take care of Savannah. Westover and her husband, Richard, who works for Verizon, also have a 6-year-old son, Austin.

The proceeds from Pink Night will help with the loss of an income, she said.

“Plus, we have a very old house that needs a lot of TLC that we haven’t been able to get to,” she said. Westover said she wants to make the repairs and sell the house “so we can move into a healthier environment” for Savannah.

Also, Westover said, Savannah has been granted a Disney Princess Cruise by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and the cruise will be scheduled when family members get their passports. However, the foundation doesn’t pay for extras.

Savannah said she thought a Disney cruise sounded like fun. “I’ve never been on a cruise before, and I know that’s one place you can swim with dolphins, which has always been my dream,” she said.

She also mentioned their home and the repairs that are needed.

Savannah said she appreciates the committee choosing her as the recipient of Pink Night, too. “They all seem like very sweet and amazing girls,” she said of the team.

Bailey-Fournier said a committee of women she calls Pink Ladies voted to donate the proceeds to Savannah. “It was pretty much unanimous,” Bailey-Fournier said.

The volunteers include the mothers of volleyball players, dance-team members and cheerleaders. The head Pink Lady the past two years has been Tammy Solberg, whose daughter, Megan, is a senior volleyball player.

Two years ago was Tammy Solberg’s first experience with Pink Night. “It was incredible,” Solberg said. “Just the support from the community — I just couldn’t believe it; it was amazing.” Solberg said her goal this year is to “just raise a ton of money” to help the Westover family.

She praised Bailey-Fournier for coming up with the Pink Night idea. “Andrea really is the vision of this whole thing. She started out, and we’ve just helped her along. We’ve taken the bull by the horns and gone with it. She’s got a big heart.”

Bailey-Fournier, who has played or coached volleyball since she was 12, got the idea in 2008 when two of her aunts who lived out of state were both diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I wanted to be able to do something and help raise money for a cure,” she said. Bailey-Fournier asked family and friends to donate, and she raised $500.

In 2009, she asked Conway Lady Wampus Cats volleyball coach Laura Crow if the team could sponsor a Pink Night and give the money to an organization, and Crow gave her blessing.

Bailey-Fournier’s dad, the late John Bailey, was a Wilson Sporting Goods representative and donated almost all the raffle prizes for the fundraiser.

“We raised almost $2,000; I was pumped,” Bailey-Fournier said.

She said the event has “snowballed” since then. “This thing keeps growing and growing. I tell people it’s like my part-time job,” she said with a laugh.

It became more personal in 2012 when a former Conway High School standout volleyball player, Sara Stovall, was diagnosed with cancer. She was treated and played volleyball at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, Bailey-Fournier said.

Stovall was the turning point for Bailey-Fournier. “I said, ‘Hey, let’s start picking people in the community who need help instead of an organization,’” she said.

It literally hit home for Bailey-Fournier in 2015 when both of her parents were diagnosed with cancer within 1 1/2 months of each other. Her mother, Vickie, had colon cancer. Her father had pancreatic cancer and died Aug. 25, 2015. Her mother is cancer-free but still battling health issues related to colon surgery.

Pink Night in 2015 raised almost $13,000 for her parents, which she said helped immeasurably.

Bailey-Fournier said she took an unpaid leave of absence from teaching and coaching at Conway High School to help her family. “Between the medical costs and me not working, the money really helped that year,” Bailey-Fournier said.

Last year, the Pink Night recipient was teacher Tina MacNamara of Conway, who was twice diagnosed with breast cancer. She died in June.

“We raised $20,000 for her last year. That was the most,” Bailey-Fournier said. “If you had told me my first year that I’d raise $20,000 at one of these, I’d have laughed in your face,” she said. “It’s definitely something that can change somebody’s life now.”

Crow is supportive of Bailey-Fournier and the event, too.

“I am so proud that coach Fournier has created an event that has turned into the capacity it has,” Crow said. “It has gone from a small event to a rather large one that takes a lot of planning and people to make it happen. The fact that we can honor someone using one of our volleyball events to help them in their life personally teaches our players that you can make a difference for someone if you work hard and give some time and effort.”

Bailey-Fournier said that’s her primary goal.

“That’s still No. 1 — that’s my main goal every year is to teach them how to give so they pass it on, and it keeps our community the way it is now,” she said. “I think Conway is a rarity. Businesses donate hundreds of prizes, and the district buys T-shirts and beads. [The players] can see what their hard work is going toward, and I think that’s priceless.”

Senior volleyball player Megan Solberg said Pink Night is an “overwhelming” experience.

“You’re really blessed with what you have,” she said. “With so many people giving donations and the community coming out and helping someone in need, it really touches your heart.”

Megan, 17, said Savannah came to one of the team’s practices.

“We got to know her; she got to know us. We told her a fun fact about us. She didn’t go into a lot because I know that’s hard for her, I guess. She’s so sweet; she went to Simon [Middle School], and she wishes she could go back to school to see her friends. That just breaks my heart.”

Megan said Savannah will attend Pink Night. Westover said her daughter will be there for a portion of the game, although she will have to be separated from the crowd.

“We just want her to have a fun experience,” Megan said.

Even though Savannah is not on the team, Megan said, the girls will be thinking of her when they take the court Sept. 28.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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